Grad health care options may shrink

A proposal to cut three health care providers from the plan is being met with concern.

Grad health  care options may shrink

Charlie Bartlett

In an effort to cut costs, a University of Minnesota committee is recommending to remove providers included in the school’s health care plan for graduate students.

Some graduate students say the change would be inconvenient and affect some recipients’ quality of health care, while proponents say the budget cuts are needed.

Last year, the University formed a committee of representatives from various departments to make recommendations for modifying the Graduate Assistant Health Plan, a health insurance plan for graduate assistants, fellows and trainees. It is reviewed every six years.

If the proposal is approved, three health care providers will no longer be included in the Graduate Assistant Health Plan come fall.

According to a presentation delivered to the Council of Graduate Students by University health programs manager Karen Chapin earlier this month, the committee chose HealthPartners as the plan’s administrator and successfully negotiated with the company for a $2.2 million decrease in administrative costs for the University over six years.

In order to cut additional costs, the committee is considering removing Mayo Clinic, Allina Health, and HealthEast Care System from the plan’s in-network system of providers, Chapin said at the COGS meeting earlier this month. If approved, the change would require those currently using the three providers to switch or pay out-of-network costs.

At the COGS meeting, the group voted to approve a resolution that addresses the proposed changes. The resolution supports the committee’s goal of reducing cost but disagrees with its recommendation to eliminate providers.

Some COGS members voiced opposition to removing the providers on the basis that they offer specialized care and are more geographically accessible for some health care recipients, like graduate assistants on the Rochester campus where Mayo may be the most accessible
provider.

Based on an informal survey of graduate students, the removal of the providers would affect around 500 of the roughly 5,000 graduate assistants who receive health insurance on the plan, said Keaton Miller, COGS and Graduate Education Council member.

At the meeting, Chapin said the University would save around $400,000 over the 6-year period by removing the providers — an amount many COGS members said isn’t high enough to justify the changes.

Miller said he’s concerned the committee hasn’t fully considered the extent to which the proposed changes could impact students.

“[Removing the providers] is going to disrupt a lot of people’s care for not very much benefit,” he said.

COGS and GEC member Nicole Scott said though she agrees that restricting the provider network is the wrong approach, she reminded COGS members at the meeting that the committee needs to find a way to decrease costs.

By not following through with the proposed changes, she said, budget cuts could instead affect departments employing graduate assistants, which could limit those students’ opportunities.

The resolution urges the committee to consider alternative methods for changing money flow, like increasing copayments and premiums to avoid cutting costs.

Chapin said at the meeting that the committee considered increasing copayments and adding deductibles but found that restricting the provider network was ultimately the best option.

And despite the conversation on modifying the Graduate Assistant Health Plan, she said of all of the University’s health plans, the graduate health care plan offers the highest level of benefits.

“It is the best one we offer,” Chapin said.

The resolution also includes a request to involve graduate students in processes — like the one the committee is undergoing — from their start.

Miller said the University failed to do that, and the committee didn’t include any graduate student representatives or members from the GEC until last month.

The resolution will be passed to the GEC for consideration, which will also discuss the committee’s recommendations. If approved, the new plan will become active Sept. 1.