Health Insurance Changes Opposed by Two International Fellows in the Religion Department

International Fellows in the Syracuse University Religion Department wrote this letter addressed to administrators involved in the decision to force grad students into a subpar insurance plan. Due to student activism, the administration has stalled on forcing all grad students into this plan; however, many current issues remain, particularly for international students and Fellows.

To Whom It May Concern:

We are currently both fellows in the Religion Department, and both of our lives will be adversely affected by the upcoming changes in our employee health care. Because these changes will place both a financial and emotional burden on our lives, and that this burden has been placed upon us without sufficient warning or notice, I respectfully request that you respond to each point of my letter.

1)   Our decision to attend this university was based not only on Syracuse University’s quality of education, but also on the quality of the benefits package against the cost of living. The official letter from the Dean of the Graduate School to Fellowship recipients, which included an appointment contract that we had to sign to accept the award, indicates that the fellowship included a competitive health benefits plan. While we understood that the benefits package could be modified over the course of our fellowship, we did not expect such a dramatic decrease in coverage. We both received a host of offers from other institutions, and our decision was made in large part by the comprehensive offer. Had we known that we would be switched to an upcoming “gold plan” offered by AETNA, whose coverage will be much worse that the coverage offered by POMCO, we would likely have weighted Syracuse University’s offer differently. Given that our attendance at this university was premised in part on the previous benefits package, we believe the University should be liable for any additional costs incurred under the new benefits package. Namely, if the previous plan offered a $40 co-pay for what will now be a 20% liability on our part, we believe the university should pay for costs over the $40.

2)    The above-mentioned letter from the Dean of the Graduate School also states, “Fellows are expected to devote full time to study and research and are expected to do no other work during the years when they are receiving fellowship support”. With the new insurance plan carded to take effect on August 1, 2015, if fellows are hospitalized, for instance, instead of paying a fixed copay under the previous SU plan, they will incur significant costs from a coinsurance payment, which, because of the one aspect of our contractural agreement which we assume you won’t be changing, won’t allow us to offset such payments through additional employment.

3)   The above-mentioned letter from the Dean of the Graduate School also says that “Syracuse University Fellows are eligible for University subsidized medical and prescription drug plans, including dental services” – The new Aetna Student Health Plan does not include dental or vision benefits – according to the FAQs posted on the SU Health Services website, students will be required to incur the cost of dental insurance by themselves. Is this not a breach of our contractual agreement?

4) Our frustration is compounded by the fact that the University did not provide us with ample warning of these upcoming changes. The University signed an agreement regarding our healthcare coverage, and apparently negotiated our benefits, without consulting the medical needs of the students that would be affected. This lack of transparency, and the fact that the University is still lacking all of the details of the new plan, has added a considerable emotional strain on the part of all Fellows at a particularly important time of year.
While we understand that our continued participation in the current employee benefits plan is illegal per IRS regulations, the University should provide Fellows with a comprehensive package equivalent to the current employee health plan.

Fu Cong & Fatima Siwaju

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