Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra

Health benefits changes help to create harmony


Like all nonprofit organizations, the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra has been challenged to keep up with rising health care costs on a limited budget. With nearly 90 percent of its 130 employees represented by labor unions, the ISO is further challenged because any solutions it creates must strike a chord with unions and also prove to be feasible in a nonprofit setting. The ISO initially engaged FirstPerson for three months in 2009 to provide an assessment of its benefits and opportunities. FirstPerson identified a number of hurdles in the ISO’s path to lowered health care costs.


For many organizations, trimming health benefit costs simply means trimming benefit offerings and informing employees of the changes. For the ISO, though, any changes needed to pass muster with union negotiators, so changes needed to be seen as beneficial to employees. To find opportunities for such changes, FirstPerson started by reviewing the ISO’s claims history and comparing it to projected claims. With this information in hand, FirstPerson created a forecast the impact the organization could make by complementing its existing plan with an HSA, increasing its wellness emphasis and stepping up benefits communications. This level of sophistication quickly won the firm trust at the negotiating table. “They made sure the bargaining teams on both sides knew how these plans work, how they’re different, how they’re similar,” says ISO VP of human resources Shawna Lake.


In the context of 2012 – with the ISO season continually postponed by salary disagreements between management and the musicians’ union – the challenges of creating a benefits program acceptable to both sides become increasingly clear. But, with FirstPerson, the ISO and its employees got a benefits administrator that delivered a plan that was both palatable and cost-effective.  That might explain why, after its three-month audition, FirstPerson found itself fully engaged as ISO’s employee-benefits partner.