Boston University Human Resources extended health benefits Friday to half-time employees who previously did not receive benefits, which will affect about 340 staff, facilities, police or administrative workers.
Workers who work 50 to 75 percent of a full-time schedule can now enroll in health and dental programs, said Chief Human Resources Officer Diane Tucker.
“This change in eligibility also improves our competitiveness with other employers,” she said in an email. “Prior to the change, benefits were only available to full-time and 75 percent-time employees. Employees will have the choice of enrolling in the health plans in addition to choices they may already have outside the University.”
Fred Foulkes, a member of the benefits review committee and director of the BU Human Resource Policy Institute, said payment benefits will be split between the university and the employee.
“You don’t want workers worrying, ‘If I get really sick, how can I afford care?’ So that’s why companies and universities offer some of that peace of mind for health care as a key benefit,” he said.
The health benefits BU employees receive include safeguards on income in the case that someone becomes disabled and cannot work, help to quit smoking, aid in paying for health and dental care and access to the Fitness & Recreation Center, according to the BU Human Resources website.
Despite this change, some employees may not want to enroll in the benefit program, Foulkes said.
“People pay premiums per month,” he said. “It’s generally deducted from their pay maybe weekly or every two weeks, and the thing is, the university will pay part and the employee will pay part, and that gives you coverage of health care.”
Randall Ellis, professor of economics at BU, said providing health benefits could be a key component to keep and attract employees.
“One good thing [about the change] is that it’s less scary for employees to shift from full to part time, but it can make some people less willing to leave their part-time jobs because now they have this extra health plan,” he said.
A BU Medical Center plan, preferred provider organization plan and health maintenance organization plan are available to BU employees, Ellis said.
Ellis said people might be able to get a better health coverage deal through their employers rather than buying on the individual market.
“Traditionally, employers get a much better premium than buying on the individual market, but that’s no longer as true with the Affordable Care Act,” he said. “I haven’t seen the comparison of the [Massachusetts Health] Connector premiums to BU’s, but the BU plan is probably more generous than many of the options available on the Connector.
Even if employees are afraid to leave their jobs for fear of losing health care benefits, Massachusetts still provides insurance for people with pre-existing conditions, Ellis said.
Maureen Sullivan, a sociology lecturer at BU, said she is not enthusiastic about the change because it will still cost employees extra to receive benefits.
“I don’t think this change does anything for part-time workers other than penalize them for not being categorized by the University as full time,” Sullivan said in an email. “Those categorized as 50 percent now will supposedly receive extended benefits, but there will be a 2 percent increase on the premiums, and the benefits will be paid for equally by the University and the employee.”
Sullivan said she would prefer if BU administrators openly discussed health care benefits with the employees to find a better solution.
“The university could sit down at the table with employees as equals,” she said. “Ask them what they need in order to do their jobs well and take care of themselves and their families, then figure out how to make that happen and then make that happen.”
Mina Corpuz contributed to the reporting of this article.