Chang W. Lee / The New York Times

MetLife insurance company will be offering dental benefits to Cornell employees starting in 2020.

November 7, 2019

Cornell Switches to Third Dental, Second Vision Insurance Plan in Five Years for 2020 Employee Benefits

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With the start of 2020 endowed benefits enrollment last week — allowing employees to renew their health insurance for next year — the Cornell Division of Human Resources has announced new dental and vision plans for faculty and staff. This is the third dental and second vision provider Cornell has partnered with in the past five years.

Current coverage, provided by Ameritas, will end on December 31, according to Donna Bugliari, Associate Director of Benefit Services, at Benefair this Tuesday. The annual event allows Cornell employees to meet insurance providers to ask questions about healthcare options.

Those seeking to renew or adjust their benefits for the 2020 calendar year must do so before the close of the open enrollment period at 4 p.m. on Nov. 29. After that date, only employees who experience a “qualifying life event,” like a marriage or birth, will be able to alter their coverage plan, according to Bugliari.

New dental benefits will be offered through MetLife, one of the largest global insurance providers, which allows members to choose between a “Standard” package, covering up to $1,250 in costs per year, and a “Plus” option, which extends to an annual maximum of $5,000 in services.

“In picking a plan, you have to think about three things,” MetLife representative Jeff Ball said to Benefair attendees. “You should consider cost, whether your dentist is in or out of network and what type of coverage you’d typically need.”

Members anticipating higher dental expenses in the coming year may want to consider the “Plus” option, he explained.

MetLife currently has 76 in-network dentists within 25 miles of Ithaca and is trying to expand that network, according to Bugliari.

The insurance company, which has over 100 million customers worldwide, views the strength of its network as the strongest benefit to members, Ball told The Sun.

“We’ve had a coordinated effort with the university to develop provider connections in the Ithaca area,” Ball said.

Partnerships between the insurance provider and universities are common, he said. The University of Pennsylvania and Princeton University also offer MetLife benefits, while the rest of the Ivy League provides services through Delta Dental, the largest oral health provider in the United States.

Gordon Barger, Director of Benefit Services, explained in a letter to faculty and staff last month, on the whole, Cornell’s health plan expenses will rise 4.7% in 2020, more than last year’s bump of 3.9% but less than the predicted national change of 5-6%.

For most employees receiving benefits from the university, this means “an increase of $3 -19 per month,” Barger said, depending on the level of coverage purchased and people on the plan.

Employees attending Ball’s presentation this Tuesday seemed optimistic about the provider.

“I’m taking his word [that] the benefits are pretty good,” said Sara Hatfield, the course coordinator for Science and Technology Studies.

Hatfield hopes the partnership with MetLife will last longer than with previous providers — she’s had three different dental plans through the university since joining Cornell faculty five years ago.

“It’s confusing to have to compare coverage options,” she said. “It might be nice to cruise along with this plan for a while.”

For eye-care benefits, the university is working with Davis Vision, which serves over 33 million members nationwide, including FedEx and the federal government, according to company representative Faye White.

Over the past few months, Cornell has collaborated with the company to design what White calls a “full comprehensive benefits plan.”

Among other services, the plan covers the cost of an annual eye exam and one pair of glasses per year from the insurer’s “Tower of Power,” a tiered rack of 222 “current, trending eyeglass frames” from the Davis Vision Exclusive collection, White said.

In contrast with previous Ameritas coverage, which reimbursed members up to a maximum dollar amount for care from any provider, Davis Vision has a set list of in-network practitioners and benefits.

“Ameritas wasn’t a true vision plan,” Bugliari said. “We’re excited Davis is.”

Not all Benefair attendees viewed the shift with the same enthusiasm.

“The only downside I can see is losing the flexibility of the Ameritas plan,” noted Physics Undergraduate Coordinator Sue Sullivan. Still, she said, she “loved” White’s presentation and was planning to enroll in vision services for the 2020 year.