Tribune Half Answers Health Insurance Audit Question

BeanCounter.gifWord from LAT overlords at Tribune have done little to quell the concern newsroom folks have over potentially losing health insurance coverage for their spouses and children.

The anxiety follows an audit schemed up by Mercer, a consultant hired by Tribune, which suggested one cost-cutting measure for the company was to rid itself of all the pesky “fake” dependents employees list on their health insurance coverage.

The mood is best summed up in a series of e-mails between Sacto reporter Jordan Rau and Irene Sewell, VP/Compensation and Benefits for Tribune, which bear the subject line “Mercer Dependent Audit Ineptitude.”

Jordan: Luis forwarded me your note. The company decided to conduct a full audit of dependent status based on the results of our initial sample audit. That audit revealed that there were hundreds of dependents being carried on Tribune’s medical plans who were in fact not eligible for coverage. This translates into approximately $2,000 a year on average for each ineligible dependent carried on our plans. These medical costs are shared with our employees so it is an expense to both Tribune and to our employees. It is not only a financial concern but one of fairness as well. Nonetheless, removing these ineligible dependents from our plans more than recouped the cost of the audit itself.

Employees can contact Mercer to receive confirmation that they have received the necessary documentation. Be assured, no employee’s dependents will be removed without being notified directly from Tribune and only if proper documentation is not provided.

Irene MF Sewell
VP/Compensation and Benefits
Tribune Company

And his response:

Dear Irene,

Thanks for your response. However, “hundreds of dependents” is not very descriptive: is that 201 or 999? And I would still like to know, upon completion of this larger audit, how many dependents were not eligible and whether those savings exceeded the audit’s cost.

Dozens of people have had a similar experience to mine. One person at the Times got the second warning letter BEFORE receiving the form she was supposed to fill out.

Making honest people fear losing their health insurance — which polls show is a major anxiety throughout the population — is inexcusable. It is no “assurance” to be told that Tribune will make contact before yanking your spouse and kids off their insurance. You have a moral responsibility to proactively inform each employee when their dependents have been verified to the company’s satisfaction so they don’t have to keep worrying.

In addition, Tribune owes an apology to every employee who received one of these threatening letters after they had already provided the paperwork. It may not meet the legal definition of workplace harassment, but the bullying approach of this audit is an affront to everyone who works hard at the Times and the other Tribune properties.


Jordan Rau