Grad students call for more in new

by Jeremy Taff

The University’s Board of Regents passed a policy Thursday giving graduate assistants better health care coverage, but students say it’s not enough.
With little discussion, Regents approved a plan that will significantly improve dental, mental and medical health care coverage beginning Sept. 1 for graduate assistants who work in labs and teach classes.
The cost of the coverage will still make up 14 percent of the average $10,000 annual income of graduate assistants.
“Once we pay for rent, food, clothing and transportation, we just don’t have $120 left over to pay for health care coverage for our dependents,” said Andrew Seligsohn, a political science teaching assistant. “It’s better than nothing, but it’s not good enough.”
Under the new policy, the University pays $60 toward any of the three dependent coverage plans per month. That leaves between $40 and $120 for students to pay, depending on which option they choose.
But the student plans still don’t compare to faculty health care policy rates, graduate assistants pointed out, for which the University pays 90 percent of dependent coverage, regardless of family size.
Yet graduate assistants do get a significant amount of their tuition and individual health care paid for by the University, depending on the amount they work.
Graduate assistants working 10 hours per week get 50 percent of their tuition and health care covered, said Robert Fahnhorst, acting director of employee benefits. If assistants work 20 hours per week, the University picks up the entire tab, he said.
But that coverage doesn’t include students’ dependents. In past policies, graduate assistants had to pay for dependent and dental coverage at retail market prices.
Seligsohn said in the last two years he has had to pay for root canal surgery and wisdom teeth removal, totaling more than $1,250.
“Ten percent of my income went immediately on my credit card,” Seligsohn said of the expense. “Even if you cut those costs in half, that’s still too much to be paying out of pocket for essential medical and dental expenses.”
For the new plans, administrators developed a partnership with the University’s School of Dentistry that gives graduate assistants a free basic preventative package and discounts on restorative dental services such as root canals and wisdom teeth removal.
“Before, students who couldn’t afford it said, I’ll just live with my rotten teeth,'” said George Green, associate graduate school dean. “Now they’ll pay half of what they had to pay on the retail market.”
Seligsohn, a representative of the Graduate Student Organizing Congress, said regents are essentially throwing graduate assistants a bone to keep them from forming a union.
“That’s why we need a union,” Seligsohn said. “It’s clear that the University will act in our interest only when we call what’s necessary to their attention and put pressure on them.”