watching the wheels

A chance to keep learning

By Wayne Wood

Vanderbilt offers its staff and faculty a lot of great deals, and I think one of the best is the tuition discount on the Master of Liberal Arts and Science (MLAS) program. This degree program is based in the College of Arts and Science and offers classes at night so those of us who are otherwise occupied during the day can attend.
The classes are taught by Vanderbilt faculty, and—this is the great deal part—if you are a full-time, benefits-eligible blah blah blah employee of Vanderbilt, the discounts mean that you can take classes for about $600 a semester. Most people just take one class a semester, and nine classes (or seven plus a thesis) are required for the degree.
I’m a student in the program, and I’ve chosen classes where I’ve studied astrophysics, the geological time scale of the earth, how biological clocks operate in the brain, as well as Amazonia, the history of the Scots and Scots-Irish, the history of the detective novel, and the nature of evil as represented in literature.
For the past three years, I’ve
written something that I hadn’t done in about 25 years—term papers. Among my topics have been how cheesy movies have shaped the way the world views the Amazon region, and how growing up in Belfast shaped the music of Van Morrison. I won’t always say that writing papers is fun, but the sense of accomplishment and the knowledge that comes from the research
is rewarding.
The instructors in the classes teach MLAS students because they want to, and I’ve heard some of them say that they appreciate the fact that those of us who are in the program are older and tend to be more interested in the subjects of the class (and in learning generally) and less interested in just earning a grade. My fellow students have been people from all over the community. Some have been professionals, such as doctors, lawyers and teachers. Some have been artists, or stay-at-home parents. I remember at least one each prison guard and newspaper writer. But everybody has one thing in common—all of us enjoy the stimulation and fun of learning more about the world and interacting with others involved in the same pursuit.
MLAS graduates get a master’s degree from Vanderbilt, just like students in any other graduate program here. They are announced and stand up at graduation and get to march across the stage and shake the Chancellor’s hand. That’s certainly my plan come next May. (Since I’m insane, I decided to write a thesis. Please don’t ask how it’s coming.)
The program was founded about 15 years ago by Russell McIntire, associate dean of the College of Arts and Science, and its cheerful day-to-day management has been handled by Sheri Reynolds, a Great American. Earlier this year its direction passed to Martin Rapisarda, associate dean for post-baccalaureate programs, who plans to add some certificate programs in concentrated fields of study, such as ethics, creative arts and others to be determined.
If this sounds like something you’d like to be a part of, remember: Vanderbilt employees get a substantial discount. Enrollment for fall semester is complete, but you can get your application and materials together now and in a few months you could be a graduate student at Vanderbilt.
Prospective students for the program have to fill out an application (Here’s a tip I learned the hard way: where the form asks for “sex,” don’t write “Yes, please”), write an essay on the topic “Why this program? Why now?” (Here’s a tip I learned the hard way: your essay can’t consist of “Why not?”), and turn in an undergraduate transcript. When you do all that stuff, the director of the program will see you for an interview (Here’s a tip I learned the hard way: during the interview, if you need to throw up, don’t stand over the director’s desk).
You may not thank me at the end of the semester when you’re writing that term paper, but I think you’ll agree that the MLAS program is a great community resource that, unfortunately, not even enough people at Vanderbilt know about.

(Wood is editor of House Organ, Director of Publications for VUMC, and author of Watching the Wheels: Cheap Irony, Righetous Indignation, and Semi-Enlighted Opinion, which is a collection of past columns.)


August 2006


Ring of Fire
Methamphetamine has the power to destroy lives.
In this special report by John Howser, we see the destructive force of the drug on its users, but also on “innocent” victims: children whose parents are swept away by its chemical haze; burn victims who arrive with devastated lives; a woman who was shattered in a car wreck caused by a meth user.
The stories aren’t pleasant, but they are important—
and, as John Howser shows, meth effects us all


Big changes in store for Vanderbilt’s health plan options

During this fall’s open enrollment, benefits-eligible Vanderbilt employees must select a new health plan option. Unlike recent years, employees won’t be able to ‘default’ to last year’s choice because the University’s contract with current plan providers expires Dec. 31.
Three new plans, as well as the addition of vision benefits, will be offered at open enrollment.
The cost to employees for the new plans is still being finalized. Information packets outlining the new health plan benefit options will be mailed to employees Sept. 26. Open enrollment will be held Oct. 1-16, and the Benefits Fair is set for Oct. 10-12.
“There are changes for 2007 that will allow faculty and staff more choice,” said Jane Bruce, director of Benefits. “We will offer some options that we haven’t had before and we hope people are pleased with the new options available.”
As usual, in addition to health and vision coverage decisions, employees will also use the open enrollment period to select the following year’s dental, accidental death and dismemberment and short-term disability insurance plans.
The University is making changes to health plan options as the three-year contract with BlueCross and CIGNA is ending Dec. 31. Having solicited bids from insurance companies who could administer the health plan options, University officials decided to offer new options. The Office of Benefits Administration worked in conjunction with Vanderbilt’s Health Care Cost Containment and Benefits committees to develop benefit plans that serve the diverse needs of the faculty and staff, officials say.

Health plan options
There will be three options for health coverage in 2007. Aetna will administer two of the options: Aetna Standard, a preferred provider organization (PPO), and Aetna Choice. BlueCross will administer one option: BlueCross Advantage P, also a PPO.
The plan design of the two PPOs will be somewhat familiar to Vanderbilt faculty and staff. Aetna Choice is a newer plan design, one that uses a health reimbursement account.
“Many companies are moving toward plans that put some of the decision-making back into the hands of the employee,” said Kevin Myatt, associate vice chancellor and chief Human Resources officer. “Our Aetna Choice offering is designed to do just
that. We hope a number of our faculty
and staff will be well served by enrolling in this option.”
Officials have not yet finalized for release the exact dollar figure employees would pay for each plan, but the monthly rates for two of the 2007 options are expected be lower than what faculty and staff are accustomed to paying for the existing PPOs.

Details include:
• The new BlueCross Advantage P option is the most expensive, but brings with it advantages, including the lowest coinsurance rates, the extension of the ‘at-Vanderbilt’ rate to select community pediatricians who have admitting privileges at Vanderbilt, and no deductible at Vanderbilt.
• The new Aetna Choice option has different characteristics from previous offerings. The monthly cost to employees is in the middle of the range of 2007 options. Aetna Choice will bring with it a health reimbursement arrangement (HRA) of $500 for the individual tier or $1,000 for the other coverage tiers. The HRA is a Vanderbilt-funded pool that pays for the first $500 (or $1,000) of covered expenses and helps the employee meet the deductible ($2,500 for individual tier and $5,000 for other coverage tiers). If the deductible is met at any point during the year, the Choice option would then pay 80 percent of health care expenses, not to include prescription drug costs.
“One of the advantages of the Choice option is that preventive care visits—both at Vanderbilt and in-network—are covered at 100 percent,” Bruce said. “The Choice option will require careful consideration, as it is much different from what we have offered before.”
• The new Aetna Standard option offers the lowest monthly payroll deduction and will be the 2007 default plan. Aetna Standard will offer the same $15 at-Vanderbilt preventive and office visit co-pay as BlueCross Advantage P. This option includes a deductible for the at-Vanderbilt rate, so hospital inpatient and outpatient treatments would be subject to an individual deductible of $200 and a deductible of $400 for the other coverage tiers.
The Office of Benefits Administration will present descriptions of the health plan options and other changes for 2007 benefits during Open Forums that will be scheduled starting in early September.
The new optional vision plan will be available through a company called VSP (, with enrollment at the same tier levels as health and dental—employee only; employee plus spouse/ certified domestic partner; employee plus children; and family coverage. The plan will offer an annual vision appointment for $15 and eyeglasses or contacts at a $15 per year rate.
Also next year, a disease management program will be offered through ActiveHealth ( Health plan participants who have complex and chronic conditions can participate in ActiveHealth’s program to help focus on their overall health in a comprehensive, holistic manner. Individuals who have been diagnosed with diabetes, asthma, congestive heart failure, low back pain and other chronic conditions will be automatically enrolled, but will have the ability to opt out of the program.

What is NOT changing
Dental Plans—There will be no changes to the plan design for dental insurance. The two options, CIGNA Dental Care (the DHMO product) and CIGNA Dental PPO, will be offered. There are no changes to the rates for dental coverage.
Personal Spending Accounts—There will be no changes to the health care and dependent care personal spending accounts (PSAs) for 2007. Both will be administered by WageWorks as in 2006. Employees interested in enrolling in one or both of the PSAs must complete the enrollment form each year.
Short-term Disability—Offered through The Hartford. The online application process includes a brief medical questionnaire. Open Enrollment is also the time to drop short-term disability if an employee no longer wants the coverage.
Information for this story was provided by Ginny McLean-Swartsell, Health Plan Communicator in Benefits Administration


Go for the Gold roundup

Game Plan For Your Health completes Go for the Gold steps
Full-time active, benefits-eligible staff and faculty can now complete the Gold Level of the Go For The Gold Incentives Program and receive $20 each month in wellness credit in 2007. More than 12,500 faculty and staff participated in the program last year, and are being rewarded by Vanderbilt for engaging in healthy lifestyle practices.

Here are the steps:
Step 1
Do your yearly Health Risk Assessment to learn what your
health risks are and what you can do to become as healthy as possible.

Step 2
Do your yearly Wellness Actions Sheet to focus on healthy actions
that will help you maintain or improve your health.
Step 3
View the 2006 Game Plan For Your Health, where you will learn ways to be an informed health care user. Game Plan For Your Health can be viewed on the Health Plus Web site, on DVD or on the big screen at the Law School, Alumni Room, Aug. 9 from 11 a.m.-6 p.m. (see below). If you’d like to view it on DVD, call Health Plus at 343-8943 for campus locations where you can pick up a DVD. The deadline for completion is Nov. 30.

Go for the Gold help sessions set
Health Plus staff will be available to answer questions and assist faculty and staff in completing the 2006 Go for the Gold Program, as well as offering blood pressure and weight checks, at the following times and locations:

Wed., Aug. 9 Law School,
Alumni Room & 314 11 a.m.- 6 p.m.

Mon., Aug. 14 Health Plus
yoga room 11 a.m.- 2 p.m.

Tues., Aug. 29 Crystal Terrace,
Room 201 11 a.m.- 2 p.m.

The Aug. 9 program at the Law School will also feature continous large-screen viewings of the 2006 Game Plan for Your Health video, one of the elements of Go for the Gold, which means that with one trip, a staff or faculty member can complete all the requirements for the 2007 wellness credit. Call Health Plus at 343-8943 for information, or visit their Web site at
Attendees should have their VU net ID and e-password to participate.

…And the help will now come to you
And Go for the Gold help sessions can now come to you. New this year, any department that has computers available for our use, at least 10 people who are interested in completing the program, and gives one week notice, can schedule a time for a Health Plus Go for the Gold help session. To arrange a session, e-mail Kimberly Tromatore at to schedule. 


Vanderbilt Medical Center | Eskind Main | Eskind Digital Library | VUMC Search | VUMC Help | VU
Copyright © 2003, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Editorial tool created by the Eskind Biomedical Library Web Team © 2002