Beginning January 1, employees who have been juggling rising food and fuel costs alongside medical bills may rest a little easier.

In the 2009 Benefits Announcement released this week, the College announced that in the upcoming year, it will cover more health care costs for employees earning a salary under $40,000 per year.

According to Senior Vice President for Finance and Administration and Treasurer Katy Longley, employees eligible for the increased benefits will not experience any increase in their annual health care contribution. Employees who fall above the $40,000 mark will have to pay a slight increase, due to increased health care costs in the area.

"Everyone else is getting an increase of 5 or 6 percent," said Longley. "We set the premiums each year to correspond to what we need to pay claims."

The College will not impose this increase on lower-salaried employees, however, in order to ease some of their financial burden.

According to Director of Human Resources Tama Spoerri, about 350 employees at Bowdoin are eligible for the benefits given to those earning lower salaries, and about 300 of those employees are currently participants in Bowdoin's medical plan. Currently, the medical plan has just under 1,000 people enrolled, a number that includes retired employees.

"I think a lot of colleges and universities have tiered health plans so that they are often based on salary bands, and some are based on percentage of salary," said Longley. "And ours is kind of a combination of the two in that we're designating a cap of $40,000, above which you pay the increase and below which you don't."

President of the College Barry Mills said that while Bowdoin is sympathetic to the growing burden of health costs on all employees, the cuts for lower-salaried employees were made based on the fact that the higher wage-earning group "was a little bit better able to absorb the cost than the lowest-paid people at the College."

"We already knew that our lowest- paid employees were being stressed and so we said as part of the benefits?and effectively total compensation?for those people, we won't pass along the increase to them," said Mills. "The College will absorb it."

In addition, the benefits announcement also states that all employees who earn below a $40,000 salary will be entitled to a $300 reimbursement of medical expenses. Though this amount, known as the deductible, is usually required to be paid to health care providers before an employee has access to the benefits of the plan, eligible employees are exempt from it.

According to Longley, the decision to cut the deductible fee for eligible employees was based on employee feedback.

"What we hear from certain employees is that the $300 dollars out of pocket when you have gas bills to pay, when you have food costs to pay, when you have heating bills to pay, that $300 can be very burdensome," she said. "The College is going to cover that first $300, which we think will make the health care more accessible and affordable."

In addition, employees will now have to make fewer trade-offs when considering health care expenses.

"We realized that there were people making the choice of buying food versus taking their kid to the doctor because of the deductibles, so we took the added expense of eliminating the deductibles," said Mills.

Richard Hart, the Smith Union cash operations night coordinator, said that he will be able to put the additional $300 towards his daily expenses.

"Between the cost of fuel and the cost of medications these days, that $300 is going to be really good," he said. "I think everyone could use the $300."

According to Longley, the $300 will be made available to employees through a health reimbursement account in the form of a debit card.

"The card will look like a credit card and be available for use at doctor's offices, pharmacies, and hospitals," said Longley.

Last year, the College eliminated co-payments for all employees on mammograms and colonoscopies, two typically costly procedures.

"Every year they give us something," said Moulton Union Cook Marji DiVece, who has worked at the College for eight years. Though DiVece praised the generosity typical in the College's medical plan, she said that this year she was especially surprised to see the elimination of the deductible fee.

"In the past, it was just a big deal to tell us the rate wasn't going up," said DiVece.

"I had to read it twice to make sure I had read it correctly," added Hart. "It's going to be so much help."

Though Mills said that it is a financial burden to the College to absorb additional health care expenses, doing so is an important priority.

"Health care for everyone is very expensive and Bowdoin pays a very high percentage of people's health care costs," said Mills. "That percentage is much higher than the average business?much higher?and higher than other colleges and universities."

"It's a burden we consider to be an appropriate one that we absorb," Mills said.

DiVece said she is happy with the benefits that Bowdoin has provided through its health plan.

"At other jobs, there's no comparison to these benefits," she said.

This article was corrected on October 31, 2008