Boris Tsang / Sun Assistant Photography Editor

Members of the Employee Assembly, pictured here at a Sept. 5 meeting, heard a presentation on Oct. 17 about the state of employee benefits at Cornell.

October 23, 2018

Employee Assembly Hears Presentation on the State of Workers’ Benefits and Insurance at Cornell

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In 2019, Cornell will pay $2.7 million more for employee benefits and a total of $700,000 more will be collected from faculty and staff than in 2018, according to Gordon Barger, senior director of benefit services and administration.

Barger spoke at the Employee Assembly meeting last Wednesday to give the current status of workers’ benefits and an overview of his department.

Concerning budget allocation for workers’ benefits, Barger stated that his focus was maximizing efficiency.

“We are not about cutting costs at Cornell when it comes to benefits,” he emphasized. “That has never been an instruction that has been given to me.”

Barger reported that, in the last two years, Cornell saw better insurance cost trends compared to the rest of the nation, which saw around 5-8 percent growth in insurance costs. Cornell, on the other hand, in 2019, will only experience a 3.9 percent increase in insurance costs.

When it comes to dental plans, Barger said he wanted “to go ahead and decrease premiums for this year.” He noted that his department “pushed back” against Ameritas, a company that provides employee benefits and other services.

“We warrant a decrease,” he said. “We really really pushed back this year, and we actually got them to look back at their own claims and this very rarely happens, but as an insured product they came back and said we will be willing to reduce your premiums.”

Concerning life insurance, Barger stated that costs for employees will increase by about 4 percent.

“We have had a fair number of deaths over the past three years … so when Cigna, who’s the insurer, looks at our risk, we are a risky population,” he said. According to Barger, 2016 was especially a bad year for employee and former employee deaths.

Barger noted the very limited control Cornell had over the flexibility of benefits and plans in the contract colleges — the School of Industrial and Labor Relations, the College of Human Ecology, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and the College of Veterinary Medicine — as New York State wields most of the leverage.

Barger said the job of the benefit services and administration department is “thinking about what your needs are today, thinking about what the University’s needs are, what our needs are tomorrow.”