February 2015 Advocate – Part-Timer Medical Stipend Survey

How much do adjuncts spend on healthcare?
How little does the District cover?

by Paul Rueckhaus, Skyline AFT 1493 Part-Timer Co-Rep. & Katharine Harer, AFT 1493 Co-Vice President

$600 per semester – this is the amount the District currently offers our part-time faculty members as reimbursement for the cost of their medical benefits. For many of our part-time instructors, the medical stipend covers less than two months of the cost of their health benefits. On top of that, you can only qualify for the stipend if you work at least 40% — 6 units. If your load is any less, you are not qualified to apply for the stipend.
As part of a new campaign to advocate for expanded health benefits for part-time faculty, Local 1493 distributed an online survey to all part-time faculty in the District to gauge the usefulness of the current stipend. This survey was timed to gather feedback for contract negotiations, which resume in late February. The survey closed Wednesday, February 11, with 201 total respondents representing almost 1/3 of all part-timers in the District! Thanks to all of the faculty who completed the survey. Not only will the responses inform our negotiations of the health benefits stipend, but the aggregate data paint a rich and complex picture of the struggle many of our adjunct faculty members have with regards to paying for their healthcare.

40% load (6 units) required to qualify

As the results of the survey are still fresh, we have not analyzed the finer points of the responses, but some notable findings jump out. Of the 200 faculty members completing the survey, 62% qualified for the part-time medical stipend—meaning they taught at least 6 units or worked at least a 40% load. About half of those respondents used the medical stipend at any time in the past.

85% say stipend did not meet needs

Of those who have received the stipend, 85% reported that it did not meet their needs. This was a telling finding for us, reinforcing the union’s position that we must take action to make this stipend more meaningful. Based on faculty responses, annual out-of-pocket healthcare premiums for adjuncts run from $2400-$7,200 with outliers as high as $24,000. Many survey respondents stated that the once-a-semester stipend doesn’t come close to covering their premiums: “It is equivalent to my monthly premium.” “My premium was almost $500 per month. And we don’t qualify for dental, so my broken crown from 1.5 years ago still isn’t fixed.”

                 Did the stipend meet your needs?

Even among faculty with the most modest out-of-pocket payments, the stipend only covers ½ of their annual premiums. This does not include copays and other fees. As one respondent put it: “It only covers about half of the cost of my insurance premium (bought through Covered CA) for the months I was teaching 8 units. Then, on top of that is the actual expense of seeing a doctor (as the lower cost plans that I can afford have a high deductible).”

If we were to use the Covered California Insurance Exchange as a measuring stick to estimate average annual medical costs, we’d see that the cost of coverage is far from affordable and the current stipend is a mere drop in the bucket. Approximately 15% of participating faculty reported getting their insurance through the on-line exchange, Covered California. Based on a single salary of $45,000 (a teaching load of 10-courses annually at the average adjunct rate) in San Mateo County, a “silver” HMO plan would cost an individual $4,658 in annual premiums. That’s with a $2000 deductible and a $45 copay for primary care visits. In fact, a significant portion of our part-time faculty either pay entirely out of pocket for health insurance or are uninsured or underinsured. Numerous responses reflected this instructor’s comment: “I stopped buying medical coverage because, even with the stipend, I couldn’t afford the premiums.”

      What is your current healthcare coverage?

Another aspect of the medical benefit stipend that the Union will be looking at is the process of applying for the benefit. The way the system works now is that faculty members must compile receipts for qualified expenses and submit their applications to Human Resources with their Dean’s approval. As one faculty member described her experience: “The process for applying for the stipend is rather labor intensive, as paperwork needs to be filled out and sent to a Dean for approval and cancelled checks for proof of need are required. It’s a lot of work for a small sum, which is probably one reason many have not taken advantage of this.”

Currently the union is looking at both the process and the amount of the medical reimbursement. On the process side, we will want to identify any obstacles in order to streamline the application process and to optimize participation in the medical stipend program. As far as the amount is concerned, we are looking at a number of factors including benefits policies for adjuncts in comparable districts, market forces in healthcare and, of course, faculty input from the survey to prepare a fair, reasonable and evidence-based proposal as we resume contract negotiations.

Thank you to all part-time faculty members who participated in the survey. As we continue to sort and analyze your responses, we will publish further revelations. We look forward to sharing our findings and reporting on the progress of contract negotiations as we move forward. As things heat up, we may be calling on you to do more than fill out a survey. This is an issue of basic fairness that all of us should be able to support – part-time and full-time instructors alike.