Faculty, staff get $40 increase for insurance plans

Mai Hoang

Western faculty and staff who will enroll in a health insurance plan for 2004 will get more help in paying their monthly premiums than they expected.

With increasing health costs nationwide, Western agreed in May to increase its health insurance contribution by $40 dollars to $381 per employee each month.

The budget council recommended a $20 increase in March, $39 less than the University Senate’s recommendation.

President Gary Ransdell said last semester that the university couldn’t afford more than a $20 increase, but a compromise was reached during a senate meeting in May.

The university’s insurance plan is based on a calendar year; the budget council’s recommendation was based on a fiscal year. To pay for the $40 increase, administrators will take the unused contribution money from this fiscal year and apply it to the insurance term running from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31.

That may defer a problem until next year.

Ransdell said the budget committee will have to find ways to fund for the $20 dollar increase for the next fiscal year as well as another insurance contribution in the following term.

University Senate chair Doug Smith said faculty were satisfied with the increase, but it’s still not quite enough to keep up with increasing insurance rates.

But Ransdell said it isn’t realistic to provide funds for a bigger increase for this fiscal year.

It’s likely that faculty and staff will still pay more premiums for their family plans, Smith said.

“The increased benefit does not cover the increase cost,” Smith said. “It’s a heck of a lot better than nothing, but it’s still a slight erosion of benefits.”

Staff Council chair Elizabeth Paris said staff members were also pleased with the increase although it does not cover projected insurance rate increases.

“You hate to give salary increases and then have more eat up by insurance costs,” she said. “Hopefully, we can keep the insurance contributions high enough to cover the increase of insurance so they can indeed see a salary increase.”

Regardless, Klaus Ernst, a mathematics professor and member of the university’s benefits committee, said most faculty and staff considered the increase a victory.

“I think people feel pretty good about it,” he said. “In particular because we don’t have a disastrous year.”

The benefits committee is in the process of examining data from the last six months and using them to determine rates for next year, Ernst said.

There has not been any major catastrophes that would cause a big jump in premiums, he said.

But that could change.

“Six months looking good does not mean eight months looking good,” he said.

Ernst said premium rates may be driven by increased health care costs. Currently the medical cost inflation is at 14 percent, higher than the regular rate of inflation.

Reach Mai Hoang at [email protected]