Health care coverage sparks debate at forum

Michelle Moriarity

Health care coverage for dependents and restorative dental care were some topics of heated debate Wednesday at an open forum for graduate students.
About 75 graduate students assembled at the St. Paul Student Center to express their concerns about their health care coverage, amid an impending change in the University partnership with Medica.
The forum was sponsored by the Council of Graduate Students.
Aylin Altan, a member of the Graduate Student Organizing Congress, said graduate students do a lot of the baseline research for the University and that their benefits should better reflect their work.
Medica, which has provided health care for the University for the past two years, provides coverage for prescription co-payments, chiropractic care, physical therapy, urgent care and preventative dental care.
Coverage for partner-spouses, dependents and restorative dental work is not included in the plan.
Andrew Seligsohn, a political science graduate student, said many students acquire high credit card debt because of this lack of coverage.
In February, the health maintenance organization also announced a 30 percent increase in premiums, triggering the formation of a committee to submit proposals to other HMOs for a new health plan to take effect when Medica’s contract expires in September.
Seligsohn said considering the success with the University’s 1998 budget request, he cannot comprehend the University’s inability to provide adequate health care coverage.
“It’s hard for us to understand why there can’t be allocation for decent health care for graduate students and their families,” Seligsohn said. “These health expenses are overwhelming.”
Albert Nakano, president of the Council of Graduate Students, shared at the forum the preliminary results of a recent online survey initiated by the student group. The survey was completed by less than one-half of the University’s graduate students.
Jennifer Schultz, a COGS representative, said the main purpose of the survey was to demonstrate the lifestyle habits of students and find out how many students have dependents.
Results showed that 37 percent of all graduate students have dependents — children or spouses who are not employed. About 86 percent of the students never use tobacco and three-fourths of the students work out on a regular basis.
Representatives of the council say they hope the graduate assistant health insurance committee — a committee composed of students, faculty and administrators — will consider these results while writing a series of proposals for potential HMOs when Medica’s contract with the University expires in September.
Administrators say these proposals will include a two-year guarantee for quoted rates and a cost quotation for removing the existing dental benefits. George Green, associate dean of the Graduate School, said the committee is exploring the possibility of creating a separate package for a University-based dental plan.
Many graduate students questioned the committee’s ability to judge their health care needs.
“We are all individuals,” said Dan Doctor, a graduate student in the Department of Geology and Geophysics. “We all have different needs. I would like some assurance that things won’t degrade.”
Nathalie Gaillot, a graduate student in the department of French and Italian, agreed.
“The impression I have is that you are trying to find some kind of a compromise,” Gaillot said. “I would like some kind of guarantee (that) we can get some better coverage.”
Nakano said although the official deadline for the survey has passed, students may still participate in it online.