Faculty tries to alter health benefits deal

by Allie Lowe | 11/29/07 1:44am

Following widespread faculty dissatisfaction with a College proposal to reduce healthcare benefits for retiring faculty and staff, the Committee on Faculty has initiated efforts to produce a new, altered version of the plan for review by the Dartmouth financial officers.

Mathematics professor Peter Winkler, chair of the COF, said that the aim of the new plan will be to soften the impact of the reductions.

"Our object is, starting with the plan that [Adam Keller, executive vice president for finance and administration,] proposed at the faculty meeting, to try to find one which is gentle and acceptable, but hopefully still meets the Board of Trustees expectations," Winkler said.

The COF will meet with Keller and other College officials at least three times, beginning Friday, to review suggestions submitted by faculty. The COF hopes to present a revised plan to the faculty at its Winter term meeting.

Though the College is not obligated to follow the COF's recommendations, Keller said Dartmouth is willing to consider the suggestions before finalizing changes.

"Everything is possible," Keller said. "I don't want to rule out anything."

Most of the work to formulate a new plan will occur in January. Alterations proposed by the COF will be reviewed with the help of an actuary to determine their financial impact.

"Anything which slows the growth [of the College's financial liability], and then eventually takes us on a downward trajectory, works for us," Keller said.

Dartmouth's current proposal, compiled by a health insurance working group of the College Benefits Council, would reduce the College's contribution to healthcare costs not covered by Medicare from 100 percent to between 40 and 85 percent for current employees. Those employees hired after Jan. 1, 2009 would receive no contribution from the College.

The motivation for the reductions comes from a 2003 mandate from the College's Board of Trustees to reduce Dartmouth's financial liabilities, particularly in the area of retiree health care benefits.

Faculty suggestions for alterations to the proposal, Keller said, have centered on the potential to "grandfather in" certain groups and to place further emphasis on years of service in calculating the percent of coverage contributed by the College. Under the current formula, age and years of service to the College are weighted equally in determining this percentage.

The College has also received suggestions to determine health care benefits based on employees' financial situations.

Not surprisingly, Keller said, the most common request is for the College to reconsider making any changes to the current policy.

Winkler emphasized that, though the COF is technically a representative body for the faculty only, the group's revised plan will likely include consideration of Dartmouth staff as well.

"As I see it, it is very much to the faculty's advantage for all the employees to be happy and fairly treated," Winkler said. "I can't necessarily speak for all the employees, but we can work to make a plan which takes into account that the faculty are only one part."

Responsibility to review the plan on behalf of the faculty was delegated to the COF during the Fall term meeting of the faculty of arts and sciences, after many faculty expressed concern at a lack of faculty input in its creation.

Winkler said he was optimistic about the COF's ability to convince the College to change its proposal.

"It's obvious what the Board of Trustees wants, which is to get out of the business of supplying retiree health care," he said. "I'm going to take the view that they're willing to do that in a gentle and humane manner, especially in the case of people who are already employed [at the College]."

Winkler called the proposed February completion of a revised plan a "reasonable goal."

"We want to make sure that people have adequate time to appreciate the plan, and understand it and respond," he said.

Both Winkler and Keller agreed that finalizing a proposal without an extended time lag was important.

"This creates a fair amount of anxiety for people," Keller said. "I don't want that anxiety to continue any longer than it has to."

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