One of the rewards of working at WhidbeyHealth for over 20 years was enrollment in one of a number of health insurance plans offered by Public Employees Benefits Board (PEBB). On Dec. 6, approximately 100 retirees received a letter from PEBB stating WhidbeyHealth was no longer participating in the PEBB program, effective Dec. 31. And with that, we were thrown to the wind.
Six of us working together tried to get more information. Based on October board minutes, the decision to cancel participation was made at that meeting. No discussion of rationale was documented.
We wondered why WhidbeyHealth had not informed us then, versus just before the holidays and with little time to explore alternatives. In contacts with WhidbeyHealth human resources, PEBB was blamed, and members of the public hospital district board referred us to human resources.
Several days after receiving the Dec. 6 letter, we received a poorly written letter with WhidbeyHealth letterhead, undated and unsigned. It confirmed the withdrawal but was notably lacking in details. Minimal information was provided to help with navigation through the complex world of health insurance.
After many, many hours of phone calls, emails and helpful meetings with SHIBA, we learned there was some good news: Numerous alternatives were available. Ultimately each of us was able to select and apply for a plan. The process, however, was stressful and time consuming. And since then we’ve learned that current employees have been left with very, very few choices.
In a Dec. 22 Whidbey News-Times article, the CEO described the rationale for disengagement as this: PEBB still uses DOS, and WhidbeyHealth couldn’t “access data to enhance the health and wellness of our current staff” and “it has a potential financial benefit.” For whom? Whatever the stated reasons for the PEBB cancellation, there were rumors that seemed more believable: WhidbeyHealth would save money at the expense of employee benefits, or withdrawal would position the hospital better for sale to a larger hospital like Providence.
The CEO and board of commissioners who voted for the cancellation ought to be ashamed of their action, as well as how it was handled. It is certainly not the way long-time employees expect to be rewarded for their service, nor, I imagine, do current employees.