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Purdue Employees Raise Concerns At Benefits Town Hall Meeting

Emilie Syberg

Purdue University employees gathered Wednesday to speak out against recently proposed changes to the school’s health insurance benefits. The plans included ending insurance coverage for some spouses whose employers cover upwards of 50-percent of their coverage. That decision has since been reversed. But attendees’ concerns were wide-ranging, and there’s no answer yet on whether that policy will return in the future.

After sending an e-mail on Tuesday putting the spousal coverage change on hold, Purdue University Treasurer Bill Sullivan broke down some of the numbers and took questions from the town hall crowd packed into Purdue Union Memorial’s North Ballroom.

“Within Purdue, the employees—on a premium basis—contribute about 12 percent of total premiums, and the university contributes 88 percent,” Sullivan says. “There’s two external data points that we have up here. One is from United Benefit Advisors, and per their surveys of some 40,000 employers, the typical employee and employer share is 29 percent for the employee, and 71 percent for the employer.”

Sullivan says Purdue picks up a disproportionate share of premiums.

“The savings associated with these things are dollars we could put into other endeavors,” Sullivan says, specifically citing salaries and raises.

Robyn Malo, a member of the University Senate and an English Department Associate Professor, spoke to fears that removing spousal coverage would impact staff retention and recruitment.

“We need to be internationally and nationally competitive,” Malo says, to sustained applause from the room. “Comparing us to local business in Indiana does nothing to ensure that we retain faculty and staff here. Nothing at all.”

Attendees also expressed strong reservations about requirements for biometric screenings and physical exams, the lack of concrete data-gathering on how many spouses the new policy would impact, and the six percent overall increase in premiums. Multiple faculty and staff stressed the need to specifically compare Purdue’s health insurance plans with those at other Big 10 schools.

After the meeting, Malo says she believes there’s a lack of awareness about how increased insurance costs might impact lower-income employees – and that Purdue shouldn’t simply be concerned with the bottom line.

“There’s a lot of language here about Purdue being a family,” Malo says. “And my response to that right now is – come on. Is this how you treat your family?”

Sullivan says he expected people to use the meeting to ask tough questions, but he has homework to do before a final decision is made on spousal coverage in the coming months.

“We need to do a lot more work and collect a broader set of comparative data,” Sullivan says.

Purdue’s open enrollment period for benefits ends on Nov. 5. 

*WBAA employees are covered by Purdue University insurance plans.