Adjunct faculty may lose health insurance

Emily Hsu/The Watchdog
Emily Hsu/The Watchdog

On April 10, 2013, Senators Andy Hill and Jim Hargrove proposed State Senate Bill 5905, eliminating state health coverage for part-time state employees in Washington state if passed, including K – 12 and higher education. The Republican-controlled Senate passed SB 5905 on Monday, April 22, 2013 by a 25-23 vote. The House of Representatives returned the proposed bill to the Senate Rules Committee for third reading on April 28, 2013. Senate Bill 5905 is strongly opposed by organized labor.

Currently, state employees in Washington receive full health coverage, including dental and vision, if they work at least 50 percent of a full-time load as defined in our faculty union contract. 81 percent of the faculty teaching at Bellevue College are adjuncts and part-time faculty who would lose their health care coverage if this bill were to pass.

State Senate Bill 5905 eliminates state health coverage for part-time state employees and forces them into the Washington Health Benefits Exchange currently being developed under the federal Affordable Care Act.  The proposed plan would determine coverage based on hours worked, not percentage of teaching load. Many who are now covered will lose their benefits completely.

Bellevue College’s union contract allows part-time faculty access to state health care if individuals are teaching 50 percent or more of a full-time teaching load.

“Unfortunately, loss of state funding and ill-informed hiring practices over the past 10 years have drastically cut the number of full-time positions offered annually.  It has simply become cheaper for the state and the colleges to offer fewer and fewer full-time tenure-track positions while balancing out the classes taught through hiring more and more adjunct [or] part-time faculty at a much lower cost to fill those positions,” said arts and humanities instructor Paula Sebastian.

SB 5905 could potentially eliminate dental and vision coverage, since the federal program does not require coverage for these benefits. Premiums would increase drastically, forcing employees to pay more out-of-pocket for deductibles, co-pays, and co-insurance.

There is also concern that part-time college faculty will no longer receive benefits through the summer months, as granted previously in the Mader Lawsuit.

“The vast majority of us so-called part-timers are equally as committed to our teaching, our students and our institution as the full-time tenure faculty – perhaps even more because we also do our jobs for a third of the pay! A huge bonus to our low part-time salary is access to health care benefits.   Losing access to those benefits would cut our pay even more. It hits us all in the pocketbook, but it also cuts into the heart,” said Sebastian.

The passing of this bill would take away all health benefits by focusing on hours worked, overlooking the percent of load. ACA was initially meant to provide coverage for people who did not have access to health care, but it is now threatening to replace and reduce employee coverage already in place.

“I haven’t received my insurance yet and if I have no chance at all of getting it, there’s a good chance I’ll have to pursue a second career. I was better treated by my institution and by the state as a grad student, and that’s deeply problematic,” said philosophy instructor Zoe Aleshire.

Dr. Douglas Brown, president of the Bellevue College Association of Higher Education and Bellevue College physics faculty member, urges faculty and students to express their concerns to their local state representatives about SB-5905.

“Saving money is not a bad thing. The question is how it will effect the overall quality of healthcare for employees,” said Brown.