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Staff concerned as Baylor looks at post-retirement health benefits

Feb. 8, 2001

Current plan to be reviewed; employee approval uncertain

By BLAIR MARTIN

Staff writer

Plans to review and possibly revise the university's post-retirement health benefits have many faculty and staff members concerned.

Baylor relies on benefits to supplement salaries in order to attract potential faculty and staff members.

'It is understandable for faculty to be a little anxious or even concerned about the benefits, especially health coverage, because it is a compensation for lower-based salaries,' said Dr. Jay Losey, president of the Faculty Senate. 'It is the whole package that makes us competitive with our peers at other universities.'

Marilyn Crone, vice president for human resources, said the university has hired insurance consultants to evaluate the post-retirement package and is just in the 'fact-finding stage.'

'It is too premature to say whether anything will change since we are only in the preliminary stages,' she said. 'Right now, no decision has been made and it is very possible that nothing will be changed.'

Richard Amos, director of compensation and benefits, agreed that simply reviewing current policies is a routine measure the university takes each year.

'Our job is to run a business that involves benefits, which is a significant financial issue,' he said. 'Since we want to keep it in the best interest of the university, it is important that all of these policies be reviewed and possibly revised.'

Amos said the insurance consultants are in the 'discovery stage right now' and are 'comparing Baylor's post-retirement policies with other universities and companies.'

Losey said the administration is reviewing post-retirement policies, specifically the health coverage, because of rising medical costs.

'They are looking to eliminate any unnecessary cost to the extent it could save money for the university,' Losey said.

He said many retirees usually opt for Baylor's coverage over Medicare because of the additional benefits.

'When you retire at 65 you have a choice. Many choose Baylor's health coverage because it has all the advantages of Medicare, plus it takes care of the cost of prescription drugs,' he said. 'With Medicare one would still have to pay for prescription drugs.' Congress this year is expected to consider legislation to subsidize prescription drug costs for Medicare recipients, and President Bush endorsed similar proposals in last year's campaign.

In 1983, eligibility for post-retirement benefits increased from 10 consecutive years to 20, which has concerned many faculty members.

Dr. Dovalee Dorsett, an information systems professor, said she thinks 20 years is too extreme considering that many faculty, because of their professional experience and expertise, are being hired in their late 40s or 50s.

'Baylor has always wanted experienced professionals or experts in their field, which means many times these people are older,' Dorsett said. 'With the current policy, if a person is 53 when he is hired, he won't be eligible until he is at least 73 years old.'

This means that faculty members such as Dorsett will have to work longer in order to obtain eligibility for retirement benefits, therefore postponing their own retirement.

'I was not aware of this policy until after I was hired, whether it be because I was naïve or just didn't understand,' she said. 'Now, so that I can obtain some of these benefits, I must work longer than I originally intended to. I'm not sure how that number compares with other universities.'

Losey said he also thinks the requirement of 20 years as a member of Baylor faculty or staff before receiving benefits is too restrictive.

'To me that number seems a bit excessive and hopefully, after we take a look at all of the health coverage, we may be able to actually reduce that number,' he said.

However, Crone said she believes the time frame is 'very reasonable' compared to other universities and she doubts it will change.

Losey said the insurance consultants plan to have several focus groups, meeting periodically throughout the semester to discuss retirement benefits with interested faculty and staff. One of them is scheduled for later this month.

Dr. Fred Curtis, professor of curriculum and instruction and member of the Faculty Senate, said the Senate expects the results from the consultants' survey by next month. Senators plan to review and, if necessary, offer a list of recommendations to the administration.

'This is a legitimate concern, especially for people who are relying on fixed incomes,' he said. 'We plan to look very closely at the results and then, if we need to, offer recommendations.'

Both Losey and Crone maintain that this is an inclusive process and 'faculty and staff will be involved from the beginning.'

Although nothing has been decided, Amos said he wants to reassure faculty and staff that any decisions will be in the best interest of the university.

'I don't know what is going to happen since it is too early to tell, but I do know that anything we do will be with Baylor's long term goals in mind.'

from BENEFITS page 1