Proposed changes to health benefits

By Beth Ann Conahan
October 25, 2001

An issue has aroused concern among faculty and staff, as well as the administration. Faculty and staff’s health benefits are under examination by the president’s office and under reconsideration by the Board of Trustees.

“Everyone is concerned,” Dr. James Hedtke, head of the faculty and staff advisory board, a board established by President Antoinette Iadarola not long after she began working at the college, said.

The administration compared the college’s programs to those of 22 comparable colleges in the area and found that its health care benefits were “out of whack” with those of other colleges, according to Iadarola.

That is one of the three reasons Iadarola and Stephen Lightcap, vice president for finance and administration and treasurer, said that the faculty and staff’s benefits were under examination.

Across the country, health care costs are rising dramatically, another reason for the reconsideration. The weak economy has added to this rise and it is expected that many companies will request that employees share in the expense. Another reason for the rise in costs involves customer freedoms. Years ago, care companies were able to control costs by striking bargains with doctors and hospitals. The expense began to rise again when care companies began to allow customers to choose their doctors and hospitals.

The faculty is aware that costs are rising across the country but wants the administration to consider methods other than cutting the benefits budget.

“We need to look at creative ways to offer quality health care plans,” Dr. Margaret McGuinness, department chair, religious studies, said.

Right now, the benefits are handled in a cafeteria plan. Employees have a budget of flex dollars, which they can use to pick and choose what they want, as though off a menu. The flex dollars left over can then be opted-out, so that an employee can take that extra money home in their paycheck.

The third challenge involves these flex dollars. Many institutions offer its employees a fixed or flat number of dollars to use. Cabrini has never done it this way. The school offers flex dollars based on a percentage of the lowest cost family medical plan. Right now, it’s based on 80 percent of that plan, bringing the total number of flex dollars to $5,840.

Forty percent of the faculty and staff choose to have no benefits through the college and take their entire flex dollars home with their paycheck because they have benefits through a spouse. Cabrini has the “highest cash out in Philadelphia,” Lightcap said.

For many employees on campus, the opt-out is a very popular perk. Would prospective new hires be turned off to the college if the opt-out money were taken away?

“I have heard faculty express concerns about that,” McGuinness said.

Iadarola feels that Cabrini offers a competitive salary and that whether or not the opt-out money is offered would not be a major consideration for a new hire. She said the school has no intention of offering a poor package.

For the employees who take their opt-out money home with them, any cut to the benefit budget or the opt-out money will be viewed as salary cut. Iadarola and Lightcap do not agree. Flex dollars are not a part of the salary. They are for benefits, according to Iadarola.

McGuinness, however, recognizes that if money that employees are accustomed to taking home in their paychecks is no longer there, it will feel like a salary cut.

On Friday, Oct. 19, 11 proposals were made to the Board of Trustees. Some of the proposals did plan to take away the opt-out but all proposals were rejected.

The final decision is that of the Board of Trustees.

Right now, the issue is still unresolved. Hedtke and the rest of the faculty and staff share a concern over what the new plan will be.

“Healthcare is a justice issue,” McGuinness said.

For now it’s “up in the air,” Hedtke said.

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Beth Ann Conahan

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