Extended family benefits meets lack of immediate participation

Chris Wilcox
Staff writer
No participants have joined the extended family benefits program, which was announced late last semester and took effect Jan. 1. Many who have considered the new program cite cost as the factor deterring them the most.
The program extends health, dental and vision insurance benefits to employees, spouses, employees’ children, extended family partners, extended family partners’ dependent children and COBRA (Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act) participants as long as all University requirements are met by the claimed dependent.
The University does not contribute toward the cost of coverage for an extended family dependent, leaving the employee to pay the full cost of the coverage.
The University’s Committee on Insurance and Benefits began evaluating the extended family benefits program in March 2011. The Faculty Senate and that committee modified the program before giving it directly to President Randy Dunn’s administration. Dunn invoked the authority to alter the benefits package.
Dunn said it is no surprise very few are showing interest in the program. 
“We did our analysis on the program before instituting,” Dunn said. “We knew it would be a very small percentage of employees – as low as 1 percent – who might even take advantage of it.”
He said he wasn’t concerned about the present numbers. As time goes on, he said,  and new hires join the University, the program will be monitored. If a change to the program needs to be made then officials will work to do so.
“I think the test comes over the next couple of years,” Dunn said. “Particularly as new individuals come to the University, to see if it’s getting popularity and if the plan is sufficient to the needs that they bring.”
Tom Hoffacker, director of Human Resources, said despite little interest University intentions of the program are to provide insurance benefits to as many of Murray State’s faculty and staff as possible.
“The faculty and staff insurance and benefits committee worked hard on this, along with Human Resources and many other participants,” he said.
Mary Mays, benefits manager of Human Resources, said few people have shown interest in the program.
“Only one applied for dental and they didn’t qualify,” she said. “We offered extended family benefits on health, dental and vision and we have no participants.”
Mays conveyed a sense of disappointment, looking back on the amount of time and energy put into the plan.
“It cost a lot of time and effort to set this up,” Mays said. “Publicizing and developing the forms required have cost the University.”
Jody Cofer, program specialist for Undergraduate Research and Scholarly Activity, said while the new benefits package was a great addition to the University’s toolbox it was costly to the potential applicants.
“I heard from a faculty member the plan was great in theory, but that they simply couldn’t afford it,” Cofer said. 
According to a document on University insurance rates for employees, the cost of the standard PPO (Preferred Provider Organization) for an employee alone is $30.60, with the University paying $371.90. An employee’s spouse must pay $106.40, while the University pays $615.60. In the case of an employee’s extended family or partner, the cost is $400.50. The University covers none.
Cofer said the reason the University will not pay for part of the extended family benefits is due to the Kentucky Constitution, which was amended in 2004 to prohibit benefits that closely resemble marriage.
“State dollars can’t be used to pay these expenses,” Cofer said. 
It’s not just a problem for the extended family partner; children of the extended family pay the full expense as well.
“Even with the cost, eventually people will become part of the program,” he said. “We have a new class of faculty every year, someone will eventually want to take part in this.”
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