Trustees finalize changes in health insurance

The board also wanted to give staff and faculty an incentive to make an informed choice about less expensive health care options and to forgo coverage if a spouse or partner can obtain it, according to President Anthony Marx.

The major change to health care coverage is that employees who currently have individual coverage will now be required to pay 20 percent of the cost of their health insurance premium. For faculty and staff who have HMOs, this translates to an estimated fee of $32 per month for the first year and an estimated $53 per month fee for the second year, according to Marx.

The other major revision to the health care benefits package is that the College will no longer reimburse retired faculty for Medicare Part B fees, nor will any coverage be extended to an employee’s spouse or partner upon the death of that employee. The College will continue to pay supplemental insurance for employees, called Medex 3, for the lifetime of the employee.

Benefits for all currently retired employees will remain the same, and 116 current College employees who meet requirements of age and years of service fall under the “grandfather clause” and thus will not be affected by the revisions. This includes employees with more than 30 years of service by July 1, 2003 and employees who will retire by July 1, 2006.

Every member of the faculty and staff will receive a one-time payment of $500 to cover the first two years of increased premium payments. “[The payment] is to keep people constant in their current consumption,” Marx said.

Marx also noted that the increase is a progressive measure that is worth proportionally more to those who are less paid. “I think it says something very powerful about the commitment of this institution that everyone agrees that those who are most vulnerable, not those who are most powerful, need and deserve and will get additional assistance,” he said. “I am delighted to say that the faculty never questioned spending a fairly good sized amount of money to assist those most vulnerable.”

Although the faculty has vocally opposed changing benefits in recent months, many faculty members said that they appreciated the efforts of the administration to consider their views. “I think that it is a pretty good compromise. I think President Marx and other new administrators came into a difficult situation and handled it quite well,” said Martha Umphrey, associate professor of law, jurisprudence and social thought. “We all regret the fact that employee benefits have been scaled back. But given the national health care situation, the changes seem understandable.”

Marx also expressed regret at the fact that any changes had to be made, but emphasized the importance of the process. “I think everyone agrees it is unfortunate we had to make any changes. That is an unfortunate reflection of the national situation. I think most people agree that some adjustment was probably called for,” he said. “I hope that people see that the College is spending some considerable resources to try to be as fair and as generous as it can during this transition.”

Marx said it would be hard to quantify how much the changes will save the College because the future costs of health care remains uncertain.

Some faculty members have praised Marx for the way he has handled this situation. “President Marx did a good job in trying to look out for the spirit of the community given the realities of health care in this country now,” said David Schneider, associate professor of music.

Ronald Rosbottom, professor of French and European studies, agreed that the new health insurance changes represent a fair settlement. “I think in general that President Marx has worked out a very effective compromise for a very difficult problem,” he said. “No one likes to see their benefits in any way lessened, yet there are imperatives that force us to make these decisions.”

Marx also noted that the College is concerned about its employees who are relatively near retirement age but are not close enough to qualify for grandfather protection, as well as those who are less well-paid and have less ability to meet the new costs. “Because of that set of principles, we have decided we will provide lump sum payments at the point of retirement for people who are over 50 years of age and have a minimum of 10 years of service,” said Marx.

The amount of the payment will be based on years of service, the cost of Medicare Part B at the time of retirement and salary at the point of retirement. Employees with lower salaries will receive proportionally more money.

“The faculty and staff are the heart and soul of this College and we need to make sure they get what they need and deserve, so I hope that we found the right balance,” Marx said.