Grad students mischarged for health insurance

Some students were temporarily charged $950 in the mix-up.

by Cody Nelson

Mike Rowe almost threw away his insurance card when he received a new one from a different provider in the mail last month.

Upon realizing that the card — along with a $950 fee charged to his student account — was sent by mistake, Rowe found his real card and said he was left confused.

Rowe wasn’t alone.

Last month, many graduate students were automatically enrolled in the University of Minnesota’s Student Health Benefit Plan while waiting for determination of their eligibility for the Graduate Assistant Health Plan, which temporarily left a $950 charge on some student accounts.

Current University policy mandates that students admitted to a degree program and registered for six or more credits per semester are automatically enrolled in the Student Health Benefit Plan if they don’t have their own health insurance.

Graduate assistants are able to enroll in a different program, but the Office of Student Health Benefits needs to verify they still have their positions to determine eligibility for the Graduate Assistant Health Plan, said Susann Jackson, director of Student Health Benefits.

Similar situations regarding these charges happen every semester, but Jackson said this semester had more cases because of a process change.

Before last fall, University policy allowed all students to self-report their insurance.

But when studies found approximately 10 percent of students were incorrectly reporting their insurance enrollment, Jackson said, the University moved to a policy that required her office to manually verify insurance enrollment and eligibility.

Jackson said this manual work takes more time and can slow down the process, leading to the $950 charge that was temporarily placed on some graduate student accounts.

One graduate student, Wes Burdine, said he didn’t realize the extra charge right away because almost 13 percent of his salary already goes to fees. When he realized the charge to his account, he was confused but said it was not unexpected.

“I’ve been frustrated enough with the University’s bizarre policies that unfortunately I’m used to it by now,” he said.

Robb St. Lawrence said the charge could have a financial impact on graduate students.

“We’re financially strapped by the nature of being grad students, so no one was rushing to pay their fees … if someone had, they would have been charged that extra $950,” he said.

St. Lawrence said most graduate students in the Department of English were charged, which he said is about 100 people.

Jackson said her office tries to get verification of graduate assistantship complete before tuition is due, but because there are 4,000 students to verify, this isn’t always completed on time.

“It’s more of a workflow process,” Jackson said. “It’s not a mistake.”

Delayed updates to graduate student positions can also slow the process, she said.

St. Lawrence, a graduate student in the Department of English, said communication and transparency issues were an inconvenience.

“We didn’t hear anything from anybody … there was no warning, it was just a $950 fee,” he said. “It was really dumb that no one told us about it.”