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July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2015 (Fiscal Year 2015)

Begins: Monday, April 7

Rice Fest: Tuesday, April 8, 2014 (11:00 am to 3:00 pm, RMC/Ley Student Center)

Ends: Friday, April 25, 2014 (11:59 pm)

Effective Date: July 1, 2014

Benefits open enrollment for active faculty and staff is completed online via Esther. Your Esther ID is your employee ID number (be sure to use a capital "E"), and your password that you selected.  If you cannot remember your password, please enter your ID and click the "Forgot PIN" button. If that method does not work, please e-mail benefits@rice.edu for assistance or call xBENE (x2363).

The absolute deadline to complete your benefits enrollment online via Esther is Friday, April 25 @ 11:59 pm. There are no extensions or grace periods -- this is a true deadline (and it's a Federal law, so no exceptions can be made!).

You need to complete enrollment via Esther if you have changes to your benefit elections or you wish to continue your medical or dependent care spending accounts. If you have no changes and do not participate in flexible spending accounts, you do not need to complete enrollment online -- your benefits will continue as-is.

However, be sure to review the important information below regarding changes to your benefits effective July 1, 2014, and we are holding a lot of information sessions before open enrollment begins. We don't like surprises and we assume you don't either, so be prepared and attend one of these events!

Please note that Rice Fest is Tuesday, April 8 from 11:00 am to 3:00 pm in the RMC/Ley Student Center. Come speak directly with our plan insurance carriers.

Has your life changed over the past year? Do you need to make changes? This article will guide you through some issues to consider during open enrollment.

If you are a retiree, please remember that retiree benefits open enrollment is in May - we will mail you a packet of information then.

Open Enrollment Menu (click the icon below to go to that section of this page):

Button - What's New    Button - General info    Button - Costs    Button - Other Forms     Button - Links     Button - Questions

What Is New for 2014-2015?

Health Insurance

The health plans are undergoing some changes! Rice has had the same set of plans for over 10 years. With the changing landscape of health care, it was time to reexamine our plans and get them ready for the next 5-10 years. The following plans are available for the 2014-2015 plan year (see a quick comparison of the plans here):

  • Memorial Hermann Accountable Care Organization (ACO) - this is a new plan and offers comprehensive HMO-style benefits with a lower premium than our current HMO. The network is limited to the Memorial Hermann system in the Houston area, and only covers emergencies elsewhere. More on the plan can be found here, and there is a nice FAQ on ACO plans here.

  • Aetna HMO - this is the current RiceCare HMO, but with a few adjustments to copayments. However, we're taking the plan national, so you may elect the HMO anywhere in the US where there are Aetna HMO doctors. This plan is still a traditional HMO, where you select a primary care physician (PCP) at the time of enrollment and you must receive a referral from your PCP to access a specialist physician or service. More on this plan can be found here.

  • Aetna Choice POS II (Open Access) - this is the current RiceCare Flexplan (POS), but with a few adjustments to copayments and a new, broader network. This plan is built on the HMO model, but does not require a primary care physician (PCP) or referrals to see specialists (i.e., "open access"). More on this plan can be found here.

  • Aetna High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP) - this plan is similar to the PPO plan, but with a higher deductible and no copayments for physician services (only coinsurance), and a new network (Aetna POS II). With a HDHP, you can also elect a Health Savings Account, or HSA, to help fund your higher deductible. The HSA has some advantages over a traditional medical spending account - for more information, read this comparison chart of HSA versus medical spending accounts and this detailed set of requirements for an HSA plan. More on this plan can be found here.
  • Some important caveats for the HDHP/HSA plan include:

    • Per IRS regulations, you cannot enroll in the HSA plan if you are currently enrolled in Medicare or some other form of insurance. You can dis-enroll in Medicare, but if you do so, your Social Security payments will stop (they will resume once you re-enroll in Medicare later).

    • Per IRS regulations, you cannot enroll in the HSA plan if your spouse participates in a medical spending account through their employer (including Rice).

    • Per IRS regulations, you cannot start contributing to the HSA plan until all previous medical spending account dollars are used. So, if you have a remaining balance in your WageWorks medical spending account, we cannot begin your HSA deductions until the balance of this account is used. So, try to use all of your medical spending dollars as of June 30 to start your HSA with the new plan year.

    • You can enroll in the HDHP, even if you are not eligible for the HSA plan.

  • Summary of the Plans - Click the link for a summary of the new plan designs, or visit the "General Benefits Information for 2014-2015" information below for the detailed new plan designs. "A Handy Guide for Comparing Your Health Plan Options" might also be a helpful resource for you to review before selecting a plan.
  • The prescription drug plan will remain with EnvisionRx Options; however, the specialty medication program will be moving from Walgreens to Costco. This change only affects less than 50 participants, but will result in better customer service and lower plan costs for these members.

  • All participants will receive a new Aetna ID card for 2014-2015. On July 1, please discard your current Aetna ID and replace it with the new Aetna ID card. Also, be sure to update all of your providers with the new plan information throughout the year (doctors, hospitals, pharmacies, etc.).

Continue to focus on prudent use of the health plan to save us all money - remember that our plan premiums are directly related to our plan spending! Watch your emergency room usage and consider using generic medications and mail order drugs to save us all money! Keep up the great work:

  • Understand the differences between and urgent care center and an emergency room? Read more about the appropriate setting for care here. Your prudent use of the emergency room reduced ER visits by 18% and save us all over a quarter of a million dollars in 2011-2012, but usage is creeping back up.

  • Save money on prescription drugs by using the mail order pharmacy service and consider generic alternatives to your brand-name drugs (if available). It saves both you and the plan money. To view the list of prescription drugs and their status, visit the EnvisionRx website.


The United Concordia dental plan is moving to Aetna for ease of administration. Same plan design, however, you will also save some money thanks to this switch.


Are you adding a new dependent to your coverage this year? Please be sure that he or she is an eligible dependent prior to adding them to your coverage. We will be auditing dependents so you may be asked to provide "proof" that this dependent is eligible under the plan (proof of eligibility may include marriage certificate, birth certificate, etc.). If you are not sure if a dependent is eligible, please contact a member of the Benefits Team prior adding them to your coverage.

The medical spending account limit remains $2,500 for 2014-2015. This amount is the result of federal law (i.e., Affordable Care Act). If your spouse is also eligible for a medical spending account as an employee of Rice or another employer with FSA benefits, then you can each elect up to the $2,500 limit (but this is not true of the dependent care spending account, which is limited to $5,000 per family).

General Benefits Information for 2014-2015

Complete 2014-2015 Benefits Booklet

Need help understanding the terms used in medical insurance documents? Review the Federal Glossary of Health Coverage and Medical Terms for help.

When you enroll in an Aetna medical plan through Rice, you are eligible for the following additional discounts through Aetna (some items may require you log into Aetna Navigator to view).

Summary of Plan Premiums

Other Helpful Information for Open Enrollment

Forms You May Need to Complete During Enrollment

  • Evidence of Insurability -- required if you increase coverage or elect life insurance for the first time. This form will be mailed to your home address, if required.
  • Life Insurance and AD&D Beneficiary Form -- required if you elect new life or accidental death & dismemberment insurance coverage, or use this to update existing beneficiary information.
  • LTD Voluntary Payment Form -- required if you elect to pay your own long-term disability benefits premiums through post-tax payroll deductions.

Website Links


Please contact your Benefits Team with any questions you may have. We would rather you ask us a question, versus assume something and be incorrect! You cannot un-ring the bell...

Updated: April 16, 2014

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