New portal for benefit plans during open enrollment, April 9-27

Rice’s annual open enrollment for health and welfare benefits will be April 9-27, and benefits-eligible employees will use a new enrollment portal this year.

2018-19 Rice Human Resources Benefit BookletThe portal powered by Benefitfocus, which replaces Esther as the enrollment portal, contains helpful tools such as a cost calculator to help employees determine which plans are best for them. Employees will be able to access reports on their enrollment status, dependents and coverage levels, and the portal will serve as the repository for documents such as dependent eligibility verifications and life event documentation.

“We are really excited about new tools available, specifically the plan-selection tool,” said Susan Prochazka, director of benefits in Human Resources. “It’s an easy way for employees, some of whom might not have thought about it in years, to consider their past usage and whether or not their current plan still makes sense for them.”

Life insurance beneficiary information will be maintained on the new portal. Employees are asked to visit the portal and enter beneficiary designations for life insurance even if no changes to benefits are made. This information can be viewed or changed at any time once it is entered.

All dependents on employees’ plans prior to Jan. 1 have been marked as “verified,” so no additional verification will be needed. New dependents must be verified. The enrollment portal will prompt employees to submit verification documentation; a full list of necessary documents will be provided during the enrollment process.

To access the new portal beginning April 9, employees can follow these steps:

  1. Visit
  2. Click the “Enroll in Benefits” icon on the right side of the page.
  3. Log in using your Rice NetID and password.
  4. Select the “Enroll Now” icon on the right side of the page.
  5. Click “Get Started.”
  6. You will be presented with a screen listing current dependents (if applicable). To add dependents, click the “Add Dependent” button (if you do not need to add dependents, skip to step 9).
  7. Enter dependent information (name, date of birth, gender and relationship are required fields).
  8. Click “Save.”
  9. Click “Next.”
  10.  Select “Begin Enrollment” under the “Your Medical Coverage” section.
  11.  Follow the prompts to select your medical benefits.
  12.  Click “Save.”
  13.  You will be presented with the next benefit offering, Health FSA. Follow the above steps for this section and all other remaining benefits offered. For each benefit that is not fully employer-funded, you may decline if you do not wish to enroll.
  14.  When you reach the life insurance section, you will be prompted to enter beneficiary information.
  15.  If evidence of insurability is needed, you will be prompted to visit the UNUM website to complete that form.
  16.  Once all sections have been completed and you have selected the green “Complete Enrollment” icon at the bottom of the screen, you will receive a confirmation number.

Employees who do not make changes to their benefits will automatically be re-enrolled in their current plan; however, renewing contributions to a flexible spending or a health savings account is not automatic. Employees must re-enroll each year to set their medical, dependent-care and health savings account contributions.

Employees can also access the portal on a mobile device by downloading the Benefitfocus mobile app from Google Play or Apple Store (enter company code “Rice” when prompted).

For assistance with navigating the new portal, understanding health and welfare benefits or making changes due to a qualifying life event, employees can contact the Rice Benefits Service Center from 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday through Friday by calling 713-348-2363 or emailing In addition, the benefits department will hold special office hours in the Cambridge Office Building, Room 112, as follows:

  • April 9, 1-3 p.m.
  • April 11, 1-3 p.m.
  • April 13, 9-11 a.m.
  • April 16, 9-11 a.m.
  • April 17, 9-11 a.m.
  • April 18, 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
  • April 19, 2-4 p.m.
  • April 23, 1-3 p.m.
  • April 27, 9 a.m.-4 p.m.

While benefit cost information will be available via the new portal, Esther will continue to provide paycheck deduction information and retirement contributions. Employees will still have access to general benefits information at and can email for questions regarding your Paid Time Off (PTO), retirement plans, FMLA or other leaves.

The benefits group will provide a general information session on the new system and plan changes at 11 a.m. April 20 at Fondren Library’s Kyle Morrow Room. Information can also be found at

What’s new?

Medical plan options for the 2018-19 fiscal year, which begins July 1, will remain largely unchanged, with office visit copays increasing by $5 and hospital copays increasing by $50. Plan premiums will increase by less than 3 percent for both Rice and for employees.

All employees will have health and welfare benefits deductions taken twice per month.  For exempt employees, this is the same as last year. Hourly employees will have deductions taken from the first and second pay periods each month, and if there is a third pay period in a month they will have a deduction holiday that applies to health and welfare benefits — medical, dental, vision, life/accidental death and dismemberment, long-term disability, flexible spending account and long-term care premiums. There will be no change to the frequency of retirement, parking or other regular benefits.


Rice will offer a new vision plan option available to all employees even if they are not enrolled in the medical plan.

“The vision plan had been hidden in the medical plan, and we wanted to bring it front and center,” Prochazka said.

The vision plan, administered by Aetna, features the Aetna Vision Preferred networks of providers. To locate a provider, call 1-855-679-3815 or visit In addition to the network benefits, this option has an out-of-network benefit level.

Aetna Vision Plan
In network Out of network
Exam $20 copay $20 reimbursement
Amount covered/allowance $100, then 20% discount $50
Frequency Every two calendar years Every two calendar years
Standard Lenses
Copay 20 20
Frequency Every 12 months Every 12 months
Contacts (in lieu of frames and lenses)
Amount covered/allowance $105, then 15% discount $75
Frequency Every calendar year Every calendar year
Additional details online



Accountable Care Organization (ACO)

This is a plan with a specific network of doctors and hospitals affiliated with Memorial Hermann, with a primary care physician, or PCP, guiding each patient’s care with assistance from a specified team of professionals dedicated to that patient’s overall care.

Memorial Hermann ACO
Employee only $83
Employee plus spouse/partner $318
Employee plus child(ren) $277
Employee plus family $541


Health Maintenance Organization (HMO)

This is a traditional HMO where the employee selects a PCP who serves as a “gatekeeper” for all medical services. Under this plan, patients must consult with their PCP before receiving services from most specialist physicians and other service providers, who are all within the HMO network.

Aetna HMO
Employee only $101
Employee plus spouse/partner $377
Employee plus child(ren) $329
Employee plus family $642


Point-of-Service (POS II)

With this plan, patients pay a set amount for in-network care; however, this plan does not require a patient to get a referral from a PCP before seeing a specialist and has an out-of-network option.

Aetna Choice POS II
Employee only $172
Employee plus spouse/partner $611
Employee plus child(ren) $537
Employee plus family $1,035


Consumer-Driven Health Plan (CDHP)

This plan is has a higher deductible and coinsurance rather than copayments for medical services. Participants pay the full cost for services and prescriptions up to the deductible and then the plan kicks in, paying coinsurance for medical services until the out-of-pocket maximum is met. This plan allows for the benefits of a health savings account because it is a qualifying high-deductible health plan. Employees can get the triple tax benefit of pre-tax deductions, tax-free growth and tax-free use of the savings for qualified medical, dental and vision expenses.

High Deductible Health Plan
Employee only $128
Employee plus spouse/partner $388
Employee plus child(ren) $375
Employee plus family $665



Rice will continue to offer the same two dental plan options as last year, both administered by Aetna: the PPO and the DMO. The monthly premium for the PPO is going down; the overall DMO premium will remain unchanged. However, the tier levels on both plans will change. They will now mirror the other health plan options with employee only, employee plus spouse/partner, employee plus children and employee plus family tiers.

In the PPO plan, participants may use any dentist of their choosing and the plan pays a percentage of the services. The monthly premium will be $48.37 for an employee only, $98.05 for an employee plus spouse, $102.14 for an employee plus children and $140.95 for family coverage. The DMO, the plan that requires participants to select a dentist from a list of providers and covers frequently performed procedures either in full or a specified copay, will remain unchanged: $13.68 for an employee only, $24.64 for an employee plus spouse, $25.67 for an employee plus children and $35.42 for Family coverage.

As in previous years, employees earning less than $40,000 per year may be eligible for a 50 percent premium subsidy.

Flexible medical spending and health savings accounts

Flexible medical spending accounts, or FSAs, allow participants to set aside pretax dollars to pay for eligible out-of-pocket medical and dependent-care expenses. FSAs are “use it or lose it” accounts; any money left in the account at the end of the plan year is forfeited. FSA elections made for the 2018-19 plan year must be used by Sept. 15 and filed for by Nov. 30 or the money will be forfeited. Medical FSAs can stand alone or accompany the ACO, HMO and POS plans only.

Health savings accounts (HSAs) are similar to the FSAs but are part of the CDHP plan only. The CDHP is a qualifying high-deductible health plan that allows the use of an HSA. HSAs do not have the “use it or lose it” provision. HSAs also allow for higher pretax contributions.


RiceFest, the annual showcase of benefit providers and other campus programs, will be from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. April 10 in Rice Memorial Center’s Grand Hall. It is held annually during the open-enrollment period to educate staff and faculty about benefits.

The benefits team along with representatives from Benefitfocus will be at RiceFest to answer questions about open enrollment, plan options and the new portal.

RiceFest is co-sponsored by Human Resources and the Staff Advisory Committee, which provides a venue for addressing issues of concern to faculty and staff and acts as a means of communication between faculty and staff and the university administration.

About Matt Wilson

Matt Wilson is a senior editor in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.