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As of Friday Nov. 27, more than half of Harvard’s security guards may find themselves unable to afford health care coverage for the coming year, due to a sharp increase in the cost of their Blue Cross Blue Shield health plan.
Those with individual plans would face a 60 percent increase in their “contribution requirement” towards their monthly premiums; those with family plans would face a 64 percent increase. This would raise family plan premiums from $335 to $550 a month, roughly equivalent to one week’s pay for most security guards, according to Arun Malik, a security guard in Mather House and a steward for Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 615, which represents the security guards.
The University currently guarantees part of the cost of employee health premiums. It calculates its contributions based on the lowest-cost health insurance plan available to a given group of employees.
For Harvard staff with Harvard Pilgrim or Harvard University Group Health Plan (HUGHP) coverage, the University pays for about 85 percent of premium costs.
But Harvard security guards are employed via a subcontract with Securitas Security Services USA, Inc., which requires them to hold the more expensive Blue Cross plan.
The University subsidy for Blue Cross is equivalent to the cash value of the Pilgrim/HUGHP subsidy. Because it does not correspond to a fixed proportion of the Blue Cross premiums, once the cost of Blue Cross increases, Harvard will only cover about 65 percent of next year’s raised Blue Cross premium.
Last year, Harvard covered 74 percent of the Blue Cross costs for individual plans and 76 percent for family plans.
Securitas notified the guards of the increase last Tuesday, Nov. 12, and initially required them to submit their intention to continue their current plan in writing by this Friday, Nov. 20, according to SEIU representative Matthew Gulish.
In response to union requests, Securitas extended the deadline to next Friday, Nov. 27 and University officials agreed to meet with union representatives.
The union is proposing that the University allow all the security guards to switch to the Harvard Pilgrim plan, after which Harvard would subsidize 85 percent of premium costs as normal.
Malik emphasized that the switch would result in no additional financial burden to the University, as the cost of the current subsidy is equivalent to 85 percent of the Harvard Pilgrim plan’s premium.
But the University says that it can only choose health coverage for its direct employees.
“The guards are employed by Securitas, not the University, and so the University does not have the ability to choose their health care provider,” read a statement released by University spokesman Kevin Galvin. “The choice of health care plans is an issue that should be discussed between Securitas and its employees.”
Gulish said he was pleased the employees had been given extra time to decide on their plan, but he emphasized that the union would consider all options to ensure the quality and affordability of its members benefits.
“With the guards up against the walls, we’ll have to consider all options to pressure Harvard and Securitas to be more cooperative with us and help us find an equitable solution,” he said.
Faced with higher costs, Malik estimated that over half of Harvard’s security guards would opt out of their health coverage, either relying on their spouses’ insurance or forgoing a health plan altogether.
One security guard, who asked to remain anonymous because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said that many of the younger guards with families would opt to go without insurance and instead pay the penalty the state requires of the uninsured.
“I’m older, so I’ll be forced to take the hit,” he said. “Some of the younger guys trying to raise a family just can’t afford it.”
Malik also emphasized that with many guards likely opting out of the plan this year, next year’s premiums will increase even more drastically. He worried the spikes would trap the guards in an “insurance death spiral” so that ultimately none of the guards would be able to afford the insurance plan.
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