Getting Answers on Health Insurance 
for Stanford Employee & Retirees
from Jack Truher  2010-11-17-t

(1) - Stanford employees and retirees still have health insurance options explained - but now on web sites. In these uncertain times, some of us miss the personal touch from someone who really knew the health insurance business and could take a few minutes to explain some abstract concept wrap in jargon for us.

The remaining informational mechanisms are recently explained by the HR Program Manager in November 2010, and on my provider Palo Alto Medical Foundation web site.  I have captured some of that language below:


(2) - Stanford's typical advice on health insurance issues to employees and retirees arrived recently in an email.  Explained is how to get help as below - with my clarifications in boxes that follow paragraphs.  So here you see Stanford language in November 2010, with my grumblings interspersed:


Stanford Benefits has several ways to assist you with any questions you have regarding your benefits. You can reach them:

  • by phone at 650-736-2985, or 
  • toll-free 877-905-2985, and press option 9.
These calls are answered by usually temporary telephone hires that may be in New Jersey or in Tempe, Arizona, or who knows where.  They aren't your friend.  They may not want to tell you where they are.  These answering hires are qualified to read the literature, if you have trouble doing that, and are usually helpful in that regard. 

They don't have plan-specific information that would allow you to compare real costs of typical surgeries or hospitalizations, for example.  For that you will be directed to the plan administrators, i.e. to employees of the plans, not to Stanford people.

You can also send an email or chat to Stanford Benefits: 

  • logging onto
  • click My Benefits   <> 
  • click Contact Us link at the top of the page. 

You may also contact plan administrators directly:

This web page is to the global corporate central committees for all things for all people.  It is hardly contact with the "plan administrator".  You will have to navigate through the swamps of corporate self-protectionism.  The answers are surely there.  But you won't be able to determine any future event, until after it has happened.

As you can imagine, with well over 13,500 employees at Stanford, the last day of Open Enrollment has been extremely busy, but the Stanford Benefits Service team is available to help and we encourage you to call them.

The Stanford Benefits Service team is a transient and generally disinterested and uncommitted assembly of temporary workers, who are sometimes alert and sometimes bored.  They rarely understand the intricacies needed for making good choices, and would not often tell you if they did.

Please use the resources mentioned above when making inquiries about your Stanford benefits.

-- HR Program Manager

Employees can reasonably wonder why Stanford has abandoned decades of personalized and individualized attention, often from current, part-time, or retired Stanford administrative specialists who were made available in those critical weeks preceding the health plan selections.

I suspect the reason is fear of liability.  It is true that when private, non-corporate advisors speak, they do so on behalf of Stanford.  If they give bad advice (rarely happens), an employee could sue for damages.  But that is not really reason enough.  Disclaimers are easy to write.  

It seems more likely that Stanford simply has less commitment to its employees and retirees, and is taking the least-cost option for the 21st century. This may be in preparation for draconian reductions in such benefits, where a locally informed constituency could be an embarrassment,  a characteristic which Stanford abhors, in the current era especially.

Whatever happened to the notion that thinking critically is how we arrive at solutions to complex problems? What is everybody hiding from?


(3) - beyond this, the Palo Alto Medical Foundation web site directs retirees to HICAP for counseling as follows:


(4) - Health Insurance Counseling and Advocacy Program (HICAP)

PAMF is an official site for the Health Insurance Counseling and Advocacy Program (HICAP). We offer free, one-hour appointments with a trained counselor. Please call 650-934-7373 for an appointment.

Mountain View Center
701 E. El Camino Real
Mountain View, CA 94040
Main phone: 650-934-7000 or 408-739-6000
Mountain View Center Google Map

About HICAP  (for Retirees usually)

The Health Insurance Counseling and Advocacy Program (HICAP) is a volunteer-supported program that provides unbiased information to help Medicare beneficiaries make the best choices for their individual health care needs. The California Department of Aging administers HICAP services.

HICAP offers information and counseling on:

  • Medicare benefits and rights
  • Changes in Medicare and Medicare-related coverage
  • How to appeal Medicare fee-for-service and HMO denials of coverage
  • Legal help and representation at Medicare appeals and administrative hearings
  • Private supplemental insurance (MediGap) coverage
  • Medicare and Medi-Cal coverage
  • Medicare Advantage plans (formerly known as Medicare HMOs) and Medicare+Choice plans
  • Retiree or employer group health coverage
  • Long-term care insurance
  • Health care consumer rights
  • Referral to community-based social and aging program services


Jack's editorial - Will we be satisfied with the HMO, or would the PPO be better.  A very individual and situational question.  The simple questions are often the hardest to answer.

Nearly all the informational forums which formerly brought together experienced experts at tables to meet our needs have vanished. We remain insurance hungry, yet sometimes perplexed shoppers for protection.    Admittedly most users don't need much help at all, but some do.  The transition through retirement is particularly confusing.

Only a little coaxing by Stanford administration deliberately isolates  employee and retiree constituencies from each other on issues of substance by continuing the permanent self-censorship residual to our years of enforced peer competition.  To see this continued into retirement is not surprising, but it is disheartening.  Now, rather than learning from each other in collaborative relationships and shared experiences, we phone across a dozen state lines seeking help from people who can only imagine our situations, and lack any experience or certainty about any complications of the craft.  They have no reason to care.

These health insurance plans are a major benefit to retirement at Stanford, but it's not easy to get answers to the non-obvious questions.  Usually it doesn't matter.  But when it does matter, we can be rightfully upset with the abandonment.  These are uncertain times, both for administration, employees, and retirees.  Why eliminate all the experts that used to appear at the Health Insurance forums.  Why now?

It will only take a few years, and few employees will know what they missed because those few experts were never part of their experience.

-- Jack Truher