Attention Pre-Retirees

If you’re a benefits-eligible employee who is planning to retire within the next few years you may be interested to learn about an exciting change, effective January 1, 2019, in the way that Middlebury provides healthcare (medical, dental and vision) access to our retirees.



Currently benefits-eligible Middlebury faculty and staff who retire* are offered the opportunity to remain in Middlebury’s health benefits, post-retirement, however to do so they must pay the full monthly medical, dental and/or vision premiums. Remaining on Middlebury’s health benefits as a retiree has its pros and cons:

  • One the plus side:
    • Retirees are familiar with our plan design, and
    • Human Resources is here to help when questions or concerns arise.
  • On the negative side:
    • Our plan is very expensive compared to the cost of comparable plans that are specifically designed for retirees (this price differential is primarily because of federal subsidies available to specifically designed retiree plans as well as special drug pricing for which we are not eligible), and
    • Retirees have only one option each for medical, dental and vision insurance which may or may not be a good fit for retirees and/or their dependents.

In fact, over time more and more of our retirees have realized that our one-size-fits-all approach does not fit all. For many years retirees have been complaining about the high cost of our benefits and asking for more cost effective alternatives, which, unfortunately we were not able to provide.  Eventually, three quarters of eligible retirees dropped out of our plans and instead opt to purchase coverage on the individual market, where there are many plan designs to choose from, and at lower costs.

While those retirees who have gone out on their own were satisfied with the coverage and price options available, we are well aware that venturing out to comparison shop for health insurance on one’s own feels like a daunting ordeal to many, and so about a quarter of our retirees haven’t done so.

What, you may be wondering, has prevented Middlebury from coming up with a suitable solution for our Medicare-eligible (65+) retirees in the past? In a nutshell, many factors, including: the relatively small size of our retiree population (only a few hundred), the self-insured style of our group plan (which works great for a large, active employee population, but not as well for a small retiree population), a geographically dispersed group (a good number live here in VT, but others are spread out over the country), a tendency for our retirees to travel abroad, and an expectation for a high-touch level of personal customer service (such as retirees currently receive from Human Resources), etc. have made viable alternatives elusive.


At Last – A Solution!

We are very pleased to announce that, at long last, we have found a solution that we believe will meet the coverage design, choice, cost and customer service needs of our Medicare-aged retirees! Effective January 1, 2019 Middlebury will replace our self-insured retiree group benefits for retirees and dependents with coverage access through ViaBenefits, the comprehensive Medicare marketplace operated by Willis Towers Watson (WTW). We are confident that the enhanced value, flexibility, choice and personal support our current and future retirees will be receiving from WTW/ViaBenefits will be a great improvement over what we currently offer in-house.


WTW/ViaBenefits – Options and Expertise

WTW is a leading global company, with roots going back to 1828, that helps clients around the world with benefits and other advisory and brokering needs. WTW’s ViaBenefits division is focused exclusively on helping retirees obtain coverage that is designed to work in conjunction with Medicare. ViaBenefits services can be roughly categorized in two parts: insurer vetting/management and retiree customer service. ViaBenefits thoroughly vets national and regional insurance companies that provide Medigap, Medicare Advantage, Medicare Part D as well as dental and vision plans.  Every insurer they contract with has been thoroughly scrutinized on, among other factors: plan design, geographical coverage, provider networks, drug formulary, customer satisfaction and price.  Nationwide ViaBenefits has relationships with over 100 leading insurance providers including: BCBS, MVP, CIGNA, United Healthcare, and AARP.


WTW/ViaBenefits – Personalized Service

ViaBenefits believes that providing customized, personal service to retirees is just as important as managing insurers. They have a dedicated group of licensed and certified Benefits Advisors (BAs) who are experts not only on Medicare supplemental policies but also have extensive training on working with their exclusively retiree customer population. The BAs servicing our account will have been specifically certified to speak with the Middlebury retiree population. BAs are “carrier agnostic”, in other words there is no incentive for them to guide a retiree towards one product over another – instead their mission is to: educate retirees on the various types of available coverage, seek to understand each retiree’s (and dependent’s) healthcare needs and preferences, help the retiree choose the coverage that best meets his/her needs, and then remain available to support retirees on an on-going basis.  Advisors spend, on average, 90 minutes on initial one-in-one phone calls with retirees to make sure they gain a full understanding of needs before jumping to recommending plan options. They look broadly at each individual situation – does the retiree have high prescription utilization?  Does he/she travel frequently, or spend winters in another state?  Is keeping the same health care provider important?  Is the retiree looking for a plan similar to Middlebury’s or open to a different type of plan design? And remember, support from a Benefits Advisor won’t end once a retiree has enrolled in a plan – throughout the year an Advisor will be available to assist with questions related to retiree coverage, much as Human Resources staff currently do.

The number and variety of plans – as well as the costs – will vary state to state, but as an example in Vermont there are currently 5 Medicare Advantage options, 17 Medigap and 16 Plan D options to choose from – ALL of which are less expensive than Middlebury’s current retiree plan!

Human Resources is currently in the process of notifying and supporting current retirees as we make this transition to ViaBenfits on January 1st.  There will be lots of communication and outreach, and we’re arranging for a team from Willis Towers Watson to come on-site to VT (with remote access for those who are outside of the area) for a presentation this fall.  The presentation will be geared specifically toward current retirees, however we will have a few seats available for active employees who are planning to retiree within the next year or so.  Please let us know if you would like to be added to the invitation list.


Related Topics

While this article specifically addresses benefits for retirees who are over the age of 65 and who are currently paying full premiums for medical, dental and vision insurance, I will add a brief update on a couple of related topics: early retirees and the “free period” of retiree coverage.

Early Retirees

Early retirees – those who retire before age 65 – will not qualify for WTW ViaBenefits services until they reach Medicare age.  Although we have a substantial number of early retirees very, very few full-pay early retirees have joined our plan since the implementation of the state insurance exchanges several years ago.  The state exchanges provided such an attractive alternative that, on average, over the past several years we have had only one early retiree paying full price remaining on our group plan.  (Options and pricing vary by state but generally there are numerous options available, at different price points, and many states offer subsidies to lower-income residents, making this a very attractive option.)

Sick Leave Reserve/Faculty Leave Reserve Conversion

Finally, employees may recall that under our so-called SLR Conversion benefit staff who have unused Sick Leave Reserve (SLR) and Faculty with unused Faculty Leave Reserve (FLR) at time of retirement are entitled to a period of Middlebury-paid retiree medical and/or dental coverage. Given that beginning next January retirees will no longer be on our group health plans we will not be able to provide the benefit in the same way as we currently do, so the method of providing the benefit has been reimagined. Starting in 2019 when employees with SLR or FLR retire Human Resources will set-up a special account, called a Health Reimbursement Account, in the new retiree’s name. The account will be funded with an amount calculated under the new SLR/FLR formula and then the retiree will be able to access that funds in that account to pay premiums for whatever insurance plan s/he has selected (through ViaBenefits, COBRA, a state exchange, or (where allowed under state law) private insurance).

Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have questions or would like to learn more about this exciting new offering! I can be reached at 802-443-5465, or by email at


*To qualify as a Middlebury retiree an employee must have worked for at least 10 years – in a benefits-eligible position – past the age of 45.

–Cheryl Mullins

ACTT Notes: Student Engagement/Studio Learning Model


We will be using this time to follow up on a Student engagement/Employment conversation with folks from DLINQ and ITS that occurred a while ago. DLINQ would also like to introduce Studio Learning as a way to immerse our student staff in meaningful work.

To help guide the discussion here is a website representing what a specific studio could be-

Also, here is the start of a proposal for this studio –



  • This meeting is a follow up from a previous meeting that included Bob, Heather, Joe A., Joe D., and Mack P.
  • Joe A. introduced the idea of Studio Learning as a strategy that DLINQ will be piloting in the fall.
  • Q: What technology will the Studios need?
    • Each Studio will have different needs. Some will need physical space and equipment, others will be able to operate in digital spaces.
  • Long-term storage and maintenance plans need to be a consideration for Studio projects.
  • Student staff supervisors in both DLINQ and ITS are seeing fewer students apply for jobs, and there is an interest in making these positions more appealing.
  • Studio Learning offers students the chance to participate in transformational activities, contributing to academic research while developing desirable skills for their careers.
  • Q: Is Studio Learning a way to connect student workers based on interest?
    • A: Students can engage in a Studio from an interest in the technologies being used or the topics that are being explored. Whether this could become part of a student staff job description would need further discussion.
  • Could Studio Learning engagement be an optional activity within a job description?
    • A: Possibly, needs further discussion.
  • ITS student staff do valuable work There is an expectation that the student workforce will continue to grow.
  • We need to recognize that there is a cost to management students. Web Development has learned that it takes a long time to get people up to speed on the complexities of the systems before they can make meaningful contributions. This is true for new staff hires, as well.
  • Q: Can students gain experience with the Studio Learning model that would prepare them for more complex student staff positions?
    • A: Possible, needs further discussion.
  • Current student staff are being “poached” by other programs. We are giving them valuable training and expertise that is desired by other departments. This has an effect on the development of our programs, senior student staff regularly become role models and supervisors of new student staff hires.
  • Q: What needs would not be met by the Studio model?
    • A: There is a tension when trying to meet a diverse set of needs and expectations with our various cultures and communities. Needs to be discussed more, may depend on the Studio. A shared Basic orientation may provide an opportunity for cross-training.
  • Q: Is there a desire to continue this discussion?
    • A: Yes. Needs to include others.
  • Q: Who else should be invited to future meetings?
    • A: Joe Durante, Charlotte Pratt. Who else?

DIRT Digest – Latest News from the Office of Digital Learning & Inquiry

Image by Pineapple Supply Co. on Unsplash

The Office of Digital Learning & Inquiry (DLINQ) has an active blog and weekly updates called “The DIRT”. If you are not yet a subscriber, here’s a digest of recent news and updates from recent weeks in case you missed them:

DLINQ posts its weekly blog series, “The DIRT!” on Tuesdays. This is where you will find updates on projects, news, and developments from staff in our Middlebury, Vermont and Monterey, California based offices. We invite you to subscribe to blog updates, visit our “About” page to learn about our office. Explore our “People” and “Projects” pages where you will find descriptions and links to our areas of work, and learn how to connect with us.

Image by Pineapple Supply Co. on Unsplash

Weekly Web Updates – July 9, 2018


Fixes and Tweaks

  • Fixed an issue with the FetchProxy service that was preventing refreshes of feeds from our Drupal sites.
  • Dates in meta tags on the Institute website are now in the correct ISO 8601 format.

Ongoing Work

  • Fixes and tweaks for the new Institute site
  • Upgrading applications to run on PHP 7.1.
  • Creating an online Services Catalog for ITS.
  • Upgrading the Drupal sites for the Davis programs, Dining Menus, and Museum of Art to Drupal 8.
  • Creating a photo sharing platform for the Breadloaf Writer’s Conference.

Middlebury graduate and undergraduate students explore the ‘China Dream’ through 2-week practicum

For two weeks, students from Middlebury Institute (MIIS) and Middlebury College, alongside Professors Yuwei Shi, Wei Lang, and Jessica Teets, traveled across China. They spoke with over 50 people, including graduate students, policymakers, researchers, members of the business community, social entrepreneurs, and other stakeholders. Through round-table discussions and lectures, the students attempted to answer the question – what is the “China Dream?”

The group included 13 Middlebury Institute students from the US and China representing five graduate degree programs (MA International Policy and Development, MA Nonproliferation and Terrorism Studies, MBA, MA Translation and Localization Management, and MA Translation and Interpretation) and five Middlebury College students representing three undergraduate degree programs (Philosophy, International Politics, and Economics).

The practicum began in the spring with an in-depth study of Chinese domestic politics, foreign policy, and social science research methods. Each student was encouraged to identify research topics they were particularly interested in exploring. The group landed first in Beijing, and visited several universities across the capital to engage with their Chinese peers in far-reaching discussions. They also met with representatives from the Foreign Affairs University and Microsoft China, and learned about subjects ranging from citizenship and patriotism in the digital space to China’s artificial intelligence development. To cap off their stay in the capital students attended a weekly press conference at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and joined a round-table discussion with the manager of Investment Operations at the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) Beijing, Dr. Ke Fang.

“Perspectives on Development.” Photo courtesy of Katharine Moody Wong, MPA/IEM ’19

From Beijing, the group traveled to Suzhou and Shanghai where they spoke with the dean of Shanghai University of Finance and Economics on innovation and entrepreneurship in China, received a tour of the Shanghai Stock Exchange, learned about nonprofit incubation and social investing at the Shanghai Non-Profit Incubator, and even visited New York University’s Shanghai campus.

Moving south, the students visited Kunming, capital of Yunnan province – which borders Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam – to study conservation efforts and China’s grand Belt and Road Initiative. After Kunming, the group finally arrived in Shenzhen– just across the bay from Hong Kong, in the Pearl River Delta – and received instruction from several nongovernmental organizations on urban planning, conservation and the intersection of technology and charity.

Like the archetypal “American Dream”, definitions of the China Dream differ depending on who you ask, as Professor Shi discovered.

“A key take-away was understanding the diversity in perception of the China Dream among the Chinese. We expected a more uniform talk, but people shared directly about how they are (or are not) thinking about the China Dream. Being on the ground and learning about the kinds of lives the speakers have lived helped us understand this diversity in perspective. You could not grasp this lesson in a classroom. We [the faculty] thought teaching about the China Dream by going to China was a better way to learn. I walked away thinking this is the only way you can learn about this topic.”

MiddCORE comes back to Monterey!

The award-winning 4-week MiddCORE program returns to Monterey this July with classes held at the downtown Middlebury Institute campus and participants residing at the beautiful Asilomar Conference Center, home to a breathtakingly gorgeous 107 acres of ecologically diverse beachfront land and a short walk from a monarch butterfly migration stopping ground. On July 3 Middlebury Institute Professor Shalini Gopalkrishnan joined mentors Christal Brown, and Erin Quinn for sessions on Networking, Leadership, and Financial Literacy.

MiddCORE is a mentor-driven, experiential-learning program that builds skills, creates opportunities, and expands networks for tomorrow’s leaders and innovators.

One person with an idea, even with a great idea, changes nothing. Visionaries succeed with leadership skills, communications skills, and entrepreneurial insights. Building those skills and insights is the CORE of MiddCORE.

The key to the MiddCORE experience is our mentors. Each has a proven record of accomplishment in their fields, and a demonstrated ability to teach others the tools for success. MiddCORE mentors develop hands-on challenges that inspire students to think creatively, operate outside their comfort zone, and deal with ambiguity. They help students build capacities, identify opportunities, and become effective leaders. Students leave confident, resourceful, and prepared to lead. (See our testimonials).

View the latest updates. #middCoreSum18