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College faculty and staff to face higher insurance premiums

Effective on Jan. 1, 2018, College faculty and staff will see their health insurance premiums increase by 5.6 percent and their dental insurance premiums by 2 percent. Much more controversially, however, approximately 150 College employees will lose their “flex credit” benefit.

“Flex Credit is money given to employees who 1. Decline our health insurance coverage and seek coverage through a spouse/domestic partner/parent’s plan elsewhere or 2. Employees who insure another College employee on their health or dental plan receive a discount to the net premiums they pay for coverage,” wrote Assistant Vice President of Human Resources Mary Greiner in an email to The S&B.

Because the flex credit system gave refunds to those who elected to use it, having this benefit taken away is akin to a pay cut for the 150 College employees who took advantage of the credit.

An announcement regarding the policy change that was obtained by The S&B says that flex credit benefits like the ones offered by the College are not a standard feature of health insurance plans, and that the College’s health insurance plan still meets standards of affordability prescribed by law.

“Elimination of flex credit dollars ensures that the College is compliant with a demonstration of affordability under the Affordable Care Act. Survey data, collected and researched by Willis Towers Watson, reveal that insurance waiver Flex Credit dollars are outdated and are no longer considered a best practice,” the announcement read.

However, for many College employees, the removal of flex credit dollars is significant. For Ann Isgrig, an administrative assistant in the department of student affairs, who uses health insurance her husband gets through his employer, the loss of flex credit dollars from the College now means that she will receive a little more than $3,000 less from the College in compensation per year.

“I was given — I don’t know what it is — $200 a month in my paycheck because I was on my husband’s insurance, so now as of January 1, they’re not going to do that anymore,” Isgrig said.

Additionally, though many employees acknowledge that the benefits they receive from the College are generally of high quality, they are more upset about the way they were notified about the changes to their health insurance. Isgrig received an email notifying her about the changes on Nov. 6, four days before the start of the “open enrollment” period, which lasts from Nov. 10 through 20, during which employees are free to change their health insurance plan. Employees are not allowed to change their health insurance plan during the rest of the year unless they experience a “qualifying event.”

Sending information about health insurance in early November is a common, annual practice, according to Greiner.

“Open enrollment materials were sent to faculty/staff on Nov. 7 … this is sent typically the same time every year,” Greiner wrote.

However, Isgrig said that before the email was sent, there was little notice that the flex credit would be taken away.

“It just seems kind of a crappy way to inform us that they were going to do that without having some education around it or a town hall. I’ve worked other places where they’ve done things like that to employees, and they’ve always been transparent about it and told us, you know, a couple months ahead you know ‘hey you’re not going to get a raise this year’ or ‘hey you know we’re going to take this benefit away from you,’ but it just … didn’t seem like it was communicated in a just way,” Isgrig said.

“I think that transparency is really needed and I just want to say that I want us to be better than [average]. … I think we have good benefits, but it may not come from benefits but it sure as heck should come from the way that we treat each other and the way we communicate with each other. … Don’t give us surprises; let us be a part of that conversation,” said a College employee at a “fireside chat” on Tuesday about the changes in health insurance hosted by members of the department of human resources.

Ultimately, Isgrig said that the slow communication about the changes in health insurance is indicative of an unequal environment for employees at the College.

“The fact [is] that it seems like there’s a hierarchy in how people are treated here, and I’ve heard it from multiple sources that it’s worse here than it is at other colleges, more pronounced, and so I guess I would just say, in addition to the flex credit thing, I would definitely like to see staff and faculty treated on a [fairer] basis when it comes to benefits and raises.”

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