Develop a life-threatening illness before tenure, lose your faculty position and your health-insurance

SUNY Buffalo

Another revealing story of just how  vulnerable Americans are with respect to health insurance and security of employment when they become ill.

The Dutch do it differently

I just came back from a series of lectures to occupational and insurance physicians  in the Netherlands

I was fascinating to learn from my casual conversations with the physicians about the role they played in an almost unimaginably different social system than what we have in the United States.

For a start, we  really don’t have widespread equivalent professional roles in the United States.

Suppose you take a job in the Netherlands and become ill. From the first day, your employer assumes responsibility not only for your health-insurance, but for returning you to whatever level of work you can do as soon as possible.

The employer is also responsible to pay you  while you are out sick for a considerable period of time. Unlike the United States, you don’t have to accumulate paid sick days ata rate of a day or two per month of employment. In the United States, also in contrast to the Netherlands, you may find that taking un paid sick days jeopardizes your job. Don’t even think about taking unpaid time off  for care of a sick relative.

If this is an inaccurate contrast, I welcome any of the occupational insurance physicians with whom I interacted to correct it, or anyone else. But the story below conveys a very different situation the United States for a faculty member on a tenure-track at SUNY Buffalo.

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A Failed Race Against the Clock

A professor loses her job at SUNY Buffalo, and her advocates say she was denied not only a fair shot at keeping her position, but the ability to stay on health insurance while facing a life-threatening illness.

The basic story

What was a simple nonrenewal of a contract in 2016 has turned into a winding dispute, leaving the professor in question with a life-threatening illness and now — after failed back-channel negotiations between faculty members and administrators — no health-insurance support from SUNY Buffalo. The consequences are likely to go beyond the professor, as well, as faculty and union leaders lead a charge to prevent a similar situation from happening again.


Illness and Negotiations

During the time that the ad hoc grievance committee was investigating the professor’s dismissal, the professor developed a life-threatening illness, Glick said. And come Aug. 15, she would be removed from SUNY Buffalo’s health insurance.

Glick’s solution was to ask the provost to reappoint her temporarily and have faculty members donate their sick pay so she could continue to receive a paycheck and benefits for six months, with the thinking that she would then transition to state disability services.

The university, however, found that would constitute an illegal use of public funds. The union countered with a legal opinion that the arrangement could have been legal.

The back-and-forth, however, never amounted to any sort of agreement. The professor was let go in August as scheduled and lost her health insurance

I would be curious about reactions from academics in the Netherlands and other countries, as well as from my fellow Americans.

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