With the increasing cost of health care, it's no surprise that the university is seeking solutions to offer quality health benefits for retirees while balancing the budget during fiscally challenging times. Since the implementation of a new governmental accounting standard three years ago, public employers must account for the cost of retiree medical and other post-employment benefits over the working lifetime of their employees. This change results in an accounting of unfunded liability that must be reported each year on the university's financial statements.

In 2007, UNM's unfunded liability for retiree health insurance was $91.3 million. By July 2009, the amount grew to $131.9 million. Given this increase in costs, UNM needs to re-evaluate the retiree health plan. While it is our goal to continue to offer retiree health benefits, we must do so within the context of rising costs, limited funding and budget cuts. To study this issue further, the Division of Human Resources convened a retiree health care task force.

The task force includes broad representation from campus, including faculty, staff and retirees. The purpose of the task force is to:

  • consider alternatives for addressing rising health care costs for our retiree population,

  • evaluate retiree health care eligibility criteria,

  • analyze the ratio of premium to claims for under-65 retirees, and

  • recommend health care options that more closely reflect the cost of health care for the retiree population.

By July 2011, we hope to use the recommendations from the task force to strike a balance between offering competitive, attractive benefits and achieving long-term financial stability.

One temporary cost-saving opportunity available through the federal Affordable Care Act is a refund of a portion of medical claims paid for retirees ages of 55-64. While UNM was approved to receive a reimbursement through this program, this relief is temporary. We must continue to work together to find long-term solutions.

Column by Helen Gonzales, vice president, Human Resources