Mail Tribune file photo of the High Tech Center at Rogue Community College in White City.
Human Resources departments have informed eligible employees of the change, thanks to new state legislation
For the first time, part-time faculty at Southern Oregon University and Rogue Community College are eligible for health care benefits.
The change comes in the wake of Senate Bill 551, which grants “the same health care benefits to employees only” as full-time faculty as long as the part-time member works at least half for at least three of the four previous academic terms.
On October 7, the Oregon Higher Education Coordinating Commission approved a standing rule outlining how higher education institutions could claim reimbursement for these new health care costs.
The respective human resources departments of RCC and SOU have informed faculty of SB551 and that some may be eligible for benefits. For SOU, this applies to 300 part-time faculty members and only 64 at RCC.
For the latter school, a greater number of teachers could be eligible only if they attest to it. SOU, meanwhile, says it’s up to part-time faculty to approach HR and see if they qualify for benefits.
RCC part-time faculty could see their new benefits immediately. But for SOU, it won’t be until November 1.
âI think it’s very important for faculty who are eligible to receive it,â said Joe Mosley, SOU’s director of community and media relations. âHealthcare is essential for all of us and I think it’s great that there is an opportunity to expand that somewhat. “
He did not give an exact figure, but said only “a handful” of professors had responded so far.
“It remains to be seen to what extent this is going to be used and to what extent our faculty will be eligible for it,” Mosley said. âIt’s up to the employee to contact HR and continue down this path. “
There are three health care plans available to SOU employees under the Public Employee Benefits Commission.
Mosley pointed out that although there are nearly 300 employees working at SOU, not all of them qualify for the health care benefits mandated by the new law because of the minimum length of time they must serve to become eligible.
âIf you reach that level of eligibility, you are good to go for the next six months,â he said. “At this point it is reviewed and HR managers make sure you have worked three out of four times in the last four terms again and are eligible again.”
While the new law allows part-time professors to obtain health care, it is the HECC rule that allows the university to cover the remaining 90% of professors who will not have to pay their benefits.
âWithout this commitment from the state and HECC, we could not have afforded to do this,â Mosley said. “We very much appreciate anything they can do to help us operate more efficiently and to support the employees of our university.”
Kyle Thomas, director of legislative and policy affairs at HECC, said it was not his agency’s role to take a stand on the legislation, but only to help lawmakers craft bills that could be implemented. .
There is some ambiguity in the language of the SB511, he added, but these issues are unlikely to be resolved until next year.
One of those questions is whether the legislature wanted the faculty to be eligible for medical coverage and prescription drugs only, or whether it intended [for faculty to also be eligible for] dental and vision, âsaid Thomas.
In this first phase of HECC’s implementation, his agency determined, through analysis, that lawmakers did not intend to expand to these two categories.
“The reason we said this is that the term ‘medical’, as interpreted by the Public Employees Benefit Board, has a very specific meaning in Oregon law and which excludes dental and vision care. “said Thomas. “Corn [lawmakers] could come back and clarify the legislation in the future.
Even though changes might not be made until 2022, institutions can still go ahead and let faculty know they might be eligible for certain health benefits, according to Thomas.
Asked about any potential concerns regarding SB551, RCC spokesperson Vicki McCrary said the school was in close communication with HECC and affected groups on the matter. The school worked with peer institutions to develop a form on health benefits and how to navigate the enrollment process.
“We will continue to do our best to uphold the spirit of the law as specific guidelines continue to be developed,” McCrary wrote in an email.
Part of HECC’s responsibility is to ensure that the state’s higher education institutions receive money mandated by the legislature – this is where the standing rule that the commission approved on the 7th comes in. October.
âSometimes when the legislature gives us money, it also relies on us to design the program. This is not one of those cases; we don’t deal with faculty benefits … we were just asked to distribute [funds]Thomas said. âThe way we developed the rule was limited to several hours of conversations with the people who take care of the day-to-day servicesâ¦ when we discussed all the technical issues, the rule ended up being written from it. -same. “