Grad health plan

by Kelly Hildebrandt

While not even a month old, the graduate assistants’ new health plan has garnered mixed reactions.
Improved mental health care, coverage for dependent partners, an extended dental plan and a national network of physicians and hospitals are the major additions to the new plan, which went into effect Sept. 1.
However, the Graduate Students Organizing Congress continues to oppose the plan, saying that it will absorb 14 percent of the average $10,000 annual income of the graduate assistants.
The Graduate School decided not to renew their contract with Medica Health Plans because of a more than 30 percent raise in rates. The new plan is covered under the preferred provider organization Araz.
“It’s the cheapest insurance I’ve ever seen,” said Tom David, a graduate student at The Humphrey Institute in urban planning. “Right now I don’t have any complaints.”
However, the Graduate School’s new health plan is one of the reasons GradSOC began a signature-collecting campaign in August to unionize graduate assistants.
GradSOC is currently holding a drive to gather enough signatures for a union vote. To hold a union election, 30 percent of about 4,000 graduate assistants have to sign the cards saying they want to vote on the issue.
The approximately 5,200 graduate students who don’t hold assistantships aren’t eligible for the new health plan or the union vote.
Along with a more comprehensive health plan than the new one, GradSOC wants better wages, a better contract and better hours, said Albert Nakano, the former president of the Council of Graduate Students.
The only increase students will bear under the new plan is a $2 increase in prescription co-payments. The University will cover the remaining 23 percent increase the new Araz plan will create. The increase will be passed on to departments and paid for through research grants and departmental money.
“Graduate students are going to cost more for their advisors and departments,” said Scott Benson, a member of the committee and research assistant in the Department of Biochemistry and the Medical School.
There have been few complaints, said George Green, associate dean in the Graduate School.
“For the first time ever the plan includes dependent coverage,” Green said. The University pays $60 per month per household under the new plan, while under the old plan dependents had to obtain other health insurance.
Through the new plan, a contract was created with the Dental School to improve dental benefits. Coverage was expanded from just preventative visits to include restorative work like root canals and fillings, Green said.
Graduate assistants receive a more than 20 percent discount off the dental school rate which is already discounted for students, said Barbara Vandrasek, executive vice president for COGS.
Improved mental health coverage will give 100 percent coverage to outpatients, said Jennifer Schultz, a COGS student chairwoman on the committee and a graduate assistant in health services.
Schultz said mental health was capped under the old plan, preventing students from having more than one or two appointments. “Providers had incentive to decrease the number of visits,” Schultz said.
The changes in the health care option were decided by the Graduate Assistant Health Insurance Committee, which was made up of administrators, faculty, and students.
“We spent many hours discussing what we were looking at in a plan,” Benson said. “I have high hopes for it. We’ll see whether this plan lives up to expectations.”