Committee to consider cutting health benefits

Currently, the College insurance plan pays 100 percent of all health care premiums for retired employees. The committee is not contemplating any changes in benefits paid to those who have already retired.

According to Director of Human Resources Kathryn Bryne, the trustees were concerned about the fact that health care costs are rising extremely quickly.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, the College health insurance provider, raised rates by 14 percent effective on July 1, 2002. Some other colleges and universities are facing a rise in rates of more than 20 percent effective on Jan. 1, 2003, according to Bryne.

At the same time, prescription drug costs are also increasing rapidly. If rate increases continue to accelerate, costs to the College could become prohibitive.

The trustees asked the committee to review three main areas, according to Bryne. The areas include access to current and future retiree healthcare, equivalent benefit treatment for all employees and cost-sharing.

The committee includes professors, staff members, administrators and two consultants from PricewaterhouseCoopers.

The committee’s charge goes on to say that, “The College’s objective is to maintain faculty and staff benefits at a competitive level with comparable institutions, so that Amherst will remain capable of attracting, retaining and motivating highly qualified people, while maintaining the institution’s financial equilibrium.”

Committee member Maria Rello, an associate athletic trainer at the College, said that the changes will not significantly affect the quality of benefits.

“Amherst College has made a commitment to offer a package that is fair, that is equitable and that will help them to maintain a high level of quality in the people they continue to attract,” she said.

Custodian Fred Leigh confirmed the important role that these benefits play in convincing staff to work at the College. “That’s the only reason I work at Amherst College. It’s because of the benefits. You can get a payroll check anywhere. Who would go clean toilet bowls without the benefits?” he said.

Rello echoed these sentiments. “The benefit package that Amherst College has offered has been very rich. My guess is that if people were deciding between jobs, this has led people to choose to work here,” said Rello. “Hopefully, though, there were a few other things that attracted them.”

Last December, the committee held an open meeting to release a review of “the overall healthcare environment and other employers’ response to it,” said Bryne.

The review looked at health benefits to retirees at eleven schools similar to the College.

“The findings highlighted the fact that, overall, Amherst College has more substantial post-retirement health care benefits than our peers,” said Bryne.

Bryne also said that she hopes the committee will be able to formulate specific recommendations by this spring.

The committee will then send those recommendations to the administration. Afterwards, they will send final recommendations to the Board of Trustees for further consideration.

Before any final decisions are made, the committee plans to hold small group discussions with varied members of the faculty, staff and administration.

“The committee and the administration are committed to providing post retirement health benefits to our employees,” said Bryne.