Benefits Plan exemplifies ‘care’ for Lees-McRae College

When Lees-McRae College moved on from a self-funded medical plan and partnered with the Board of Pensions, it was able to add value for its employees and reduce administrative burden and financial risk.

Photo courtesy of Lees-McRae College

Located in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains in the town of Banner Elk, Lees-McRae College sits at the highest elevation of any American college or university east of the Mississippi River. A private institution affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), it was founded at the turn of the 20th century when the Reverend Edgar Tufts, then pastor of the Presbyterian church in Banner Elk, gathered together a small group of students for study.

It was this Presbyterian connection that brought together Lees-McRae and the Board of Pensions of the PC(USA) through the Association for Presbyterian Colleges and Universities (APCU). When leaders from the two organizations met at APCU’s annual conference, Lees-McRae had been struggling with the risk and uncertainty of a self-funded medical plan.

“It was a budgeting nightmare — a shot in the dark,” said Jon Kokos, Vice President for Finance and Business Affairs/CFO and Treasurer at Lees-McRae, about the self-funded plan. “Some years, we would win, and some years, we would lose and lose big.”

Additionally, “there are a lot of administrative responsibilities with a self-funded plan,” explained Mary Furst, Lees-McRae’s Human Resources Director. “It added additional work and a layer of complexity.”

A ‘refreshing’ approach to benefits

Ultimately, the college wanted to provide better medical coverage for its employees, in addition to reducing administrative burden and financial risk and restoring stability to its annual budget. According to Kokos, the college started considering other options for medical coverage, including the Board of Pensions.

“We looked at several options, including a large conglomerate in our area. Unlike the Board, it was an all-or-nothing plan, and the pricing wasn’t close to that of the Board. Plus, the Board’s plan was in line with our mission as a PC(USA) college,” said Kokos. “The Board of Pensions was a no-brainer for us.”

Lees-McRae also appreciated the philosophy of the Benefits Plan of the PC(USA), based on A Theology of Benefits, and the focus on wholeness that’s woven throughout the plan. All three of the medical coverage options offered by the Board of Pensions – the PPO, EPO, and HDHP – include a variety of features, at no additional cost to the employer or employees, that demonstrate the Board’s commitment to wholeness and well-being, such as generous preventive care benefits; an online well-being program, Call to Health; and the Employee Assistance Program.

“If I could summarize the Benefits Plan in one word, it would be ‘care’,” said Furst. “We valued how the Board of Pensions manages the plan and their focus on the individual. It’s easy to become cynical about employee benefits, but the Benefits Plan was very refreshing.”

“Call to Health was a huge incentive for us,” said Kokos of the online well-being program, which encourages participants to develop and maintain healthy habits in the four areas of wholeness: spiritual, health, financial, and vocational. The program, Kokos explained, reinforces concepts that Lees-McRae emphasizes to both its students and its employees.

Adding choice and value for employees

When Lees-McRae initially entered the Benefits Plan June 1, 2019, it offered the PPO medical coverage option to its employees, and for 2020 added the EPO option and vision eyewear coverage. According to Kokos, the addition of the EPO option was all about giving employees the ability to choose which plan would work best for them and their situation. The college has a lot of younger staff members and, for many of them, the EPO, which is offered at a lower monthly cost than the PPO, is a better alternative. “They’re sensitive to price — even a few extra dollars from their paycheck is significant,” said Kokos.

Kokos described the move to coverage through the Board of Pensions as “a win” for Lees-McRae College. “We were able to look at the problems we were having with our previous plan and address those problems by moving in a different direction and, at the same time, add value for our employees,” said Kokos. “The employees see the value in it and are enjoying the plan. It’s much better for them.”

“I would tell other colleges to look at the Board of Pensions. This is a great way to shore up your budget and add value for your employees. We’re really glad we made the switch,” he added.