College updates healthcare benefits

Following the Supreme Court decision on gay marriage, the Benefits Committee modified the College’s healthcare policy so that now the partner of a faculty or staff member will only receive coverage if the two are married. The new policy will take effect on January 1.

Before this change, the unmarried same-sex partner of a faculty or staff member was eligible to receive the college health program; however, coverage is now contingent upon marriage for all employees of the College.

According to Vice President for Finance and Administration Fred Puddester, the federal legalization of gay marriage in June motivated the change. Previously, the College reasoned that because same-sex couples could not legally marry, an employee’s same-sex partner should be able to receive his or her healthcare benefits. Now that gay marriage is legal, however, the committee sees it as inequitable to allow unmarried same-sex couples and not unmarried couples of different sexes to receive certain benefits.

The Benefits Committee is made up of four faculty members and four or five staff members. Members from Human Resources (HR) sit in on meetings as well in order to answer the committee’s questions about the benefits system. HR representatives include Puddester, HR Director Martha Tetrault and Benefits Administrator Kris Maloney. The committee discusses and recommends a course of action to the president’s senior staff, who then consult and make the final decision. Puddester is also part of this group, as are three faculty members: Provost Will Dudley, Dean of Faculty Denise Buell and the Dean of the College Sarah Bolton.

The Benefits Committee operates with a consensus-based process. “Nothing really moves forward unless everyone’s nodding their heads around the room,” Puddester said.

The initial suggestion to change the health insurance policy came up during last year’s Benefits Committee meeting. At this time, all of the states in which employees of the College are residents had legalized gay marriage.

The committee decided not to move forward with the change at the time because gay marriage was not yet legal throughout the country. This year, however, on the heels of the Supreme Court decision, the current committee, which now has different faculty members and some new staff, decided to instate the proposed modification.

“I think part of the concern at the first committee was, what if there’s a faculty [or staff member] that got hired coming from a state where [gay marriage] wasn’t allowed, and then they come here but they have to rush to get married the day before they start work?” Puddester said. “And that didn’t seem fair, but now that it’s nationwide, the feeling of both committees was that it’s fair and equitable to treat everyone the same, now that the country treats everyone the same.”

Puddester also said that he is interested to see if other colleges are making similar changes.

“I’m actually meeting with my peers, the [chief financial officers] of other small liberal arts schools and I’m going to have this discussion,” Puddester said. “I think some of them have [made these changes], but that’s one of the things that I’m going to try to find out when I go to my conference in two weeks.”

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