The administration is currently discussing potential changes to the structure of health insurance premium payments with faculty and staff. Many University employees, particularly members of Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU) Local 153, voiced concerns after an Oct. 27 announcement that healthcare premiums would increase for employees. These premiums increased by 14.5 percent on Jan. 1 of this year.
The University currently pays two-thirds of health care premiums and employees contribute the remainder. According to Director of Human Resources Patrice Melley, there are no plans to adjust the University’s overall contribution, however, discussions are underway to explore the possibility of reconfiguring the system of individual contributions.
Discussions are currently focused around four potential models. One option would continue the current model in which all employees pay the same percentage. Other models would baseindividual percentage contributions on salary, number of dependents, or price of the plan.
“The four options illustrated are common examples of models used by other universities and employers,” Melley wrote in an email to The Argus. “Our current model is also commonly used by employers and universities. We will be looking at our current model, these models and combinations of these models, but a solution unique to Wesleyan is likely to emerge.”
According to Chairman of the Compensation and Benefits Committee Michael McAlear, forums were held on Feb. 15 and Feb. 17 for faculty members and librarians to discuss the issue. The meetings, which included presentations by Melley about the four options, were also videotaped and posted online. Additionally, faculty members and librarians were invited to participate in an online survey and discussion board.
President Michael Roth said that without faculty support for a salary-based model, it is unlikely to be instituted.
“I think it’s important, if we’re going to ask the faculty to subsidize some of the healthcare for employees who make less money, that they see the rationale of doing that, and that they agree with the rationale of doing that,” he said. “I hope that rationale can be made clear and that there is support for it, otherwise it is unlikely that it will happen.”
According to Chief Steward of OPEIU Barbara Schukoske, similar discussions with staff are tentatively scheduled to begin during the second week of April, which will also include forums as well as an online discussion and survey. According to Melley, forums for non-represented staff and faculty have already been held.
“I take the views of the represented staff, of all of the staff, some of them are in unions and some of them aren’t, very seriously,” Roth said. “The union—as unions do everywhere—articulate the concerns of their members rather forcefully, which is a good thing. But there are a lot of staff who are paid around the same amount who are not in unions, and we want to make sure we hear their views too.”
McAlear said he believes faculty members are considering the issue from a University-wide perspective.
“I think all of us hopefully look at this issue not from just a strict faculty perspective,” he said. “There is a lot of discussion of how this could affect people with different pay grades, different needs. There are comments all through the discussion board for what it means for other people, not just ourselves.”
According to Melley, the University’s health care costs have been increasing steadily in recent years, but remained below the national trend through 2009. However, for 2010, the University claims rate was higher than the national trend. McAlear emphasized the fact that the increase in health insurance costs is a national issue.
“It’s not only how we’re going to pay for things [now], one of the big issues is that the costs keep going higher and higher,” McAlear said. “The increases far outstrip the other inflation or pay raises, so how we divide up this payment is important.”
Roth said that he aims to work with faculty and staff representatives to complete a proposal for the future insurance model by the end of the semester.
McAlear said it is not likely that all faculty members and librarians will agree on one plan.
“The faculty, I think, for good reason, has a very diverse perspective on the issue,” McAlear said. “Are we all going to be in one camp? Probably not. But when are we ever? At the end, there may not be one clear winning option, but I think doing the exercise is worthwhile to see, because we don’t really know it until we do it.”