Eligibility requirement concerns arise over student health care insurance

Independent study, non-degree and online and distance learning credits are not eligible for the Student Health Benefit Plan.

James Farnsworth, communications director for the Minnesota Student Association, poses for a portrait on Tuesday, Sept 24. “Having adequate health coverage is a crucial key to success for a student. I am passionate about advocating for changes in the Student Health Benefits Plan to ensure no students are left out.” 

Jasmin Kemp

James Farnsworth, communications director for the Minnesota Student Association, poses for a portrait on Tuesday, Sept 24. “Having adequate health coverage is a crucial key to success for a student. I am passionate about advocating for changes in the Student Health Benefits Plan to ensure no students are left out.” 

Emily Sizen

Multiple University of Minnesota community members are advocating for eligibility requirement changes to the University’s student health insurance. A committee is now set to analyze their concerns.

University students who are taking at least six credits and admitted to a degree program must have some type of health insurance. In order to be eligible for the Student Health Benefit Plan, an individual must be taking at least six credits. However, there are several credit types that do not count toward eligibility, including independent study, non-degree credits and online and distance learning. 

For some students, the fact that online and distance learning classes do not count toward SHBP eligibility can interfere with registration and access to student health insurance. According to the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost, a committee will likely be made in September or October to reanalyze the health care plan’s requirements.

“If you register for the in-person [classes] you’re eligible, say as part of your credit load. [If] you register for the online, you are not,” said Kristin Anderson, a retired School of Public Health learning systems and student affairs associate dean.“I am not arguing with the issue of being on campus, nor that students should pay fees, but there ought to be a way to check into that category of students.”

Anderson said this issue was first brought to her attention in 2018. A student with a registered disability came to her and expressed that she was unable to take the online classes best suited for her because it would impact her eligibility for the student health insurance. The issue, Anderson said, is one that affects all students in both undergraduate and graduate degree programs. 

“[The issue] is, for me, particularly acute for the professional students because so many are working professionals or part-time, but it’s all students.”

Students like James Farnsworth, a fourth-year undergraduate student and communications director for the Minnesota Student Association, said it made the most sense with his schedule and academically to enroll in online credits. However, when he was registering for classes last year, he realized that taking online classes could impact his ability to be eligible for health insurance.

“I didn’t realize the requirement for the Student Health Benefit [Plan],” Farnsworth said. “It isn’t really said anywhere, you kind of have to have a deep knowledge of the University and how registration works and how credits work.”

“I had to significantly restructure my registration plan to be able to meet the six in-person credits” Farnsworth said. 

In a letter to the editor sent by Anderson to the Minnesota Daily, Anderson said that she has been in touch with representatives from Boynton Health, the Office of Student Health Benefits and the Disability Resource Center. 

She has also brought this issue to the Professional Education Council. At the council’s May meeting, Anderson said it was indicated that the Provost’s office had agreed to form a committee to further look at the issue.

“I hope that the provost will go forward, form a committee with the view this will be done,” Anderson said. “Let’s fix it. It’s not fair, it’s not right. They could form a committee to see how we do it, how do we go about it, and establish something as fair.”

Joseph Shultz, the deputy chief of staff to the executive vice president and provost, said a committee will be formed and tasked with evaluating the issue and deciding what steps to take next. 

“It will be a pretty informal group … from the Professional Education Council to just kind of look into it and see if they can understand what, if anything, can be done,” Shultz said in a voicemail. “I imagine we will get the group together very soon, probably in September or October.”

“I just see this as an important issue to promote student’s success, and it’s an issue of fairness,” Anderson said. “I’m confident that it will be fixed.”

Farnsworth said he hopes to work with the new Provost and both the Professional Student Government and the Council of Graduate Students to address this issue. 

“It’s on my radar now as member of MSA, looking into this next year, in terms of the advocacy that we do,” Farnsworth said.  “It’s always been on my radar personally, but now that I’ve realized it seems to be more of a widespread issue that’s touching other students, it’s something that I am definitely going to hopefully carry on conversations about.”