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Benefits of part-time work

March 06, 2005|by WANDA T. WILLIAMS

wandaw@herald-mail.com

Comprehensive medical insurance is no longer a benefit offered only to full-time employees, as a number of Tri-State companies now are offering some form of coverage to part-time workers.

Gloria Zayas works a full-time job in Chambersburg, Pa., and also commutes to a part-time job as a cashier with The Home Depot in Hagerstown.

As a part-timer, she qualifies for medical insurance, and she plans to enroll herself and her 10-year-old son, she said.

"I was surprised to learn that I could get health insurance," Zayas said. "I would have applied for a job here a long time ago if I'd known that."

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She said The Home Depot's comprehensive medical insurance is less expensive than the plan currently offered by her full-time employer. That is a plus when you're on a tight budget, she said.

The company offers medical insurance to attract and keep part-time staff, company spokesman Don Harrison said.

At Home Depot stores across the country, part-time employees are eligible for medical insurance after the first 90 days of employment. Benefits include major medical, dental, vision and prescription drug discounts, Harrison said.

Part-time employees qualify for individual or family coverage, and the cost of monthly premiums is split between the employee and the company.

As health insurance cost continue to rise, access to medical insurance coverage through part-time employment is becoming a viable option for employees who can afford it. But part-timers need to be sure they understand what they're getting, said Sonya Schwartz, a health policy analyst with Families USA, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that is an advocate for high-quality and affordable health care.

"For instance, some companies offer drug discount cards, not health insurance, and employees sometimes get the two confused," Schwartz said.

In 2004, the average monthly medical insurance premium for family coverage was $829 for a family and $308 for a single person, Schwartz said.

Single individuals younger than 65 with no dependents face a particularly difficult time securing health insurance if they don't have access through an employer. Also, many don't qualify for Medicare until they're 65 unless they have a disability, Schwartz said.

That was the case for Eleanor Vance. In 1998, Vance was forced to reduce her work hours from full time to part time as a sales associate with the Wal-Mart Supercenter in Hagerstown.

"I had to cut my hours back to keep my widow's pension from my husband's Social Security," Vance said.

Vance was 60 at the time and wasn't old enough to qualify for Medicare, but Vance already had been employed at the store for three years when she started working part time, she said. Individual comprehensive medical coverage only is available to part-time Wal-Mart employees who have been on the job for two or more years.

Vance said her medical insurance pays 80 percent of her major medical costs after she meets a $350 deductible. For prescription drug coverage, she pays a $30 co-payment for name-brand prescription drugs and a $10 co-payment for generic-brand prescription drugs. Vance said she only has to work a minimum of 16 hours a week to qualify for medical insurance as a part-time employee.

Wal-Mart spokesman Dan Fogelman said the company also offers a $1,000 limited medical plan for part-timers employed for less than one year.

"It's a limited stop-gap plan to help cover expenses," Fogelman said. "It costs $16.24 every two weeks."

Wal-Mart's comprehensive medical insurance costs less than $40 a month for employees who enroll, Fogelman said.

Wal-Mart employees hired after 2002 who work less than 34 hours a week are considered part time.

Other large retailers such as Hecht's and Target also offer some form of medical insurance to part-time employees.

At Hecht's and The Home Depot, part-time employees who work a minimum of 20 hours a week qualify to sign up for medical insurance. Part-time employees at other large local companies, such as First Data Merchant Services, also are eligible for health insurance coverage.

"It's a comprehensive benefits package, which includes medical, dental, vision, vacation, personal days and sick days," company spokesman Jim Green said.

Health insurance benefits also are available through temporary staffing agencies such as Manpower and Randstad.

"You have up to your first 30 days to apply, and it's effective the first 30 days after an applicant has applied," said Peggy McCarty, Manpower's risk control coordinator.

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