Increase concerns faculty, staff

Joe Lord

The budget council’s recommended health insurance contribution increase has met criticism from some faculty and staff members, who say the plan may further increase insurance costs for Western employees.

In March, the budget council recommended a $20 increase in the university’s health care contribution per full-time employee each month. That was nearly one-third the $59 increase recommended by the benefits committee, said Claus Ernst, a mathematics professor and committee member.

University Senate Chairman Doug Smith said he expects the Senate to use much of its April 17 meeting to discuss the insurance contribution.

“I think there’s enough time for discussion,” Smith said. “I think it will be fairly swift discussion, but I think there’s time.”

That time may have ran out.

President Gary Ransdell said yesterday he has accepted the budget council’s recommendations and intends to forward them to the Board of Regents. The board will have the final say on the budget at their May 9 meeting or at a called meeting in June.

“The budget council had an extremely difficult challenge,” Ransdell said. “I think they have addressed as many pressing issues as possible and I commend their efforts. I’m not going to start second guessing them at this point.

“Besides, I don’t have any data to justify doing anything to the contrary.”

The benefits committee wanted the university to increase its contribution to keep up with inflation costs in its plans, Ernst said. Their recommendation was based on data provided by Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, the third-party administrator, and would bring the university’s contribution to $400 per month for each full-time employee.

“Then, roughly speaking, we can preserve the status quo,” Ernst said.

Under the benefits committee recommendation, single coverage would remain free, but the cost of dependents could increase by roughly 15 percent, he said.

Along with the insurance increase, the budget council also agreed on a 3.7 percent salary pool increase.

“I think the majority of the budget council felt like the salaries are more important, and it went in that direction,” said Gene Tice, vice president for Student Affairs and campus services and a budget council member.

But the salary increase didn’t come at the expense of the insurance increase, Chief Financial Officer Ann Mead said via e-mail.

“We didn’t pit salaries versus benefits,” she said. “We did the best we could to fund as much as possible on a variety of needs.”

Ernst said that could still pose problems for some employees.

“My expectation of this would be dependent coverage should rise by more than 15 percent, and it might be that single coverage is no longer free,” he said. “That would be a close call.”

Ransdell said he hadn’t seen any evidence of that possibility.

Ernst said faculty members will benefit more than staff members from the budget council’s recommended salary increase because they generally make more money.

“If you are the people who make higher incomes then, of course, you’re better taking the percentage,” he said.

Ernst said staff with dependent coverage may wind up using all their raise money to pay for insurance and still come up short.

Joy Gramling, a staff council member and former staff regent, said that possibility has caught the attention of the staff council, which discussed the issue at its April 2 meeting.

“We don’t think anybody should get a raise that ends up being a pay cut,” she said.

If insurance costs turn out that way when they’re determined this fall, the staff council may ask the university to remedy the situation, she said.

Ransdell said the university’s responsibility is to cover the insurance costs of its employees, but dependent coverage should be shared by the university and the employee.

“I think it’s unrealistic for the university to pick up 100 percent of the cost increase for family coverage,” he said.

Reach Joseph Lord at [email protected]