Message to SU Graduate Program Directors Regarding the Changes to Health Care

In light of the recent changes to graduate students’ health care, we, THE General Body, feel it is important to be transparent with current, potential, and incoming students about these changes. As it stands, the administration has, without consulting students, changed graduate teaching, research, and other assistants’ employee health coverage from the employee plans to the student plans. The administration has sent a message to incoming graduate students suggesting that the plan is an improvement. This is false; the new plan’s benefits are currently unknown and we cannot say whether they will be better than the employee plans. For those of us who were recruited on different terms, we are now seeing an unexpected increase in our expenses, an increase that will hit people with chronic health conditions, people who have children, and lower-income graduate students particularly hard. It also devalues the work of graduate employees.

We have seen the Associate Dean of the Graduate School’s April 3 letter to prospective students alerting them of these changes, but we are concerned that the letter is not transparent about the additional cost and hardship that will be incurred by students. The available information is vague and sometimes contradictory; we have attempted to get a sense of some of the costs that students will incur from this new plan:

  • Under this plan, graduate employees will be forced off of the employee plan and onto the student plan
  • International students report that the student plan will cost $700/year more per person and there will be benefit reductions
  • There is no vision or dental coverage in the new plan
  • The new plan costs $1890 a year for a current single student with no children. According to GSO members, the cost increase (including tax implications) is about $856 more per year
  • A TA with a spouse and two children on their insurance would pay up to $4,615 more for this plan
  • If we understand the university’s FAQ correctly, for new domestic students entering in Fall 2015 and voluntarily purchasing the Aetna plan, their sum will be $2,742.
  • The plan necessitates both co-pay and co-insurance  (a percentage of the procedure, test, etc. paid out of pocket). At the GSO meeting, one student said he needed 4 MRIs this year. This cost him $40 each in co-pay. With the new plan, he said it would cost him between $500-600 per MRI.

According to an e-mail from GSO President Patrick Neary sent April 3, 2015, the agreement has already been signed with AETNA. The GSO has publicly censured the administration for this unilateral decision, and this Wednesday, graduate students and faculty allies will be meeting to discuss unionizing in response. THE General Body is also organizing meetings and actions in response.

As graduate director, you could potentially make a public impact by voicing your opposition to this undemocratic, nontransparent change, which clearly does not have student interests in mind. It’s clear that the administration wants to make it more difficult for students who do not have a significant financial safety net to attend graduate school. As you know, this seriously compromises the diversity and strength of our programs, and potential to recruit students. Along with graduate students in other departments, we urge you to speak out against this blatant injustice by making a public statement, urging the department to make a public statement, and supporting the GSO’s censure of the administration.

In addition to taking a public stand on this issue by writing a statement of support, we ask that you alert your department’s current and prospective students to these changes immediately. You can assure the prospective students that we will be working to support graduate students’ rights to quality healthcare and sustainable financial security.

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