With projected growth in health coverage costs looming particularly large for 2018, Case Western Reserve leaders are asking faculty and staff to share their preferences regarding ways to reduce health care expenses in the coming year.

Members of the campus community can offer their perspectives through an online survey, available at case.edu/benefits-survey, that went live this morning. The survey closes at 5 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 11.

The university also will hold informational town hall meetings in the coming weeks.

Significant increases in individuals’ use of care—including in-patient stays and outpatient treatment costs—mean that if the university takes no action to change its plans, employees will face average monthly premium hikes between 15 and 18 percent next year.

“These figures are so significant that we feel an obligation to explore ways to reduce the amount of the increases,” Vice President for Human Resources Carolyn Gregory said. “Part of those efforts is hearing from the campus community regarding their priorities involving the extent of coverage choices and range of approaches to paying for them.”

Before proposing such measures, the university contracted this summer with experts at Cleveland-based Oswald to learn more about why costs had climbed so much in the final two months of the fiscal year that ended June 30—and why that trend is expected to continue.

The company delivered its analysis—which involved reviews of tens of thousands of claims involving the roughly 6,000 individuals covered through Case Western Reserve—in late September. The analysts provided a range of recommendations, some of which can be implemented in time for next month’s open enrollment period.

The new survey, which can be found at case.edu/benefits-survey/, asks faculty and staff to provide feedback regarding options that could be included in plans presented next month.

To ensure that only Case Western Reserve faculty and staff can access the survey, a CWRU ID is required. However, all responses to the survey are completely anonymous.

“The survey our faculty and staff completed in 2011 proved invaluable in guiding decisions made then regarding health plan options,” Gregory said.

More than 985 people completed the survey conducted six years ago. Their responses then showed that members strongly valued choice among physicians and hospitals, as well as certainty regarding total potential costs during a year. In response, the university included caps on several kinds of payments, including lower limits for those making less than $50,000 per year. The university also launched a wellness program in 2012.

In more recent years, the university has joined a multi-organization consortium to reduce rates of increase in prescription drug costs and added Minute Clinics as covered visits to health plans. These measures together significantly slowed the growth of costs, until 2017.

While overall usage of care is the main driver for the new increases, Oswald’s examination provided more specific explanations. First, the university’s benefits-eligible workforce is getting older; the average age today is 47.9, while the national average is 42.2. Each additional year of average age at an organization adds between 1 and 3 percent to overall benefits costs. In addition, individuals with chronic conditions tend to receive more health care—and, often, more expensive care. At Case Western Reserve, the three most common and costly conditions were hypertension, high cholesterol and low back pain.

After securing feedback regarding those items that can be adjusted in time for open enrollment, officials will return to the university community regarding other, longer-term measures to reduce expenses.