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Rise in graduate health cost

Broader health insurance leads to higher prices for mandatory coverage grads

News Editor

Published: Saturday, September 1, 2012

Updated: Tuesday, September 18, 2012 17:09

Students preparing for Fall semester face an unexpected hurdle with changes to mandatory healthcare coverage for graduate students.

Students were notified about the changes in the policy, including a cost increase, following the switch of service providers from Pearce and Pearce to UnitedHealthcare less than two months before the start of this school year.

Graduate programs, including the History Department, are concerned that cost increases to the healthcare policy and the rising cost of education will hurt retention and recruitment numbers.  

“The history department, like many departments around the university, has made great strides in this area in recent years, but these advancements are threatened by the increases to graduate health insurance fees,” said Dylan Ruediger, president of the Association of Historians at Georgia State and other members of the history program in an appeal to the administration to reconsider cost increases.

Georgia State said healthcare cost increases are a result of requirements of the Affordable Care Act, rising cost of healthcare and University System of Georgia requirements that include a maximum annual limit of no less than $100,000.

The timeliness of the notifications of cost increases is a major woe for students.

“Unlike other major changes in University Policy (such as the Holiday Schedule and Class Schedule), this notice was emailed out to students less than two months before the Fall semester is scheduled to start,” Nathaniel Boyd, president of the Biology Graduate Student Association, said. “This has likely been an extraordinary hardship for non-traditional students who have had to scramble to find private insurance in less than two months to avoid paying the large increase in premiums for the Fall and Spring semesters.”

Georgia State apologized for the short notice of the healthcare changes for students.

“We thought it would be quicker, but the unsettling issues with the American Healthcare Act, along with the requirements of procurement regulations, lengthen the process of selection of a vendor for student health insurance,” said Elizabeth Jones, associate vice president of finance and administration.

Students have the option to use their own private insurance provider if their personal coverage is comparable to that provided by the university.

Requirements of outside insurance include a maximum benefit of $100K and a behavioral benefit. It is the burden of the students to complete an online waiver to petition for use of their own insurance policy. If their request is denied then they are notified via email and the cost of the university provided insurance is added to their student account.

With the exception of Georgia Tech, University of Georgia and University of Science Health, all USG schools provide the same healthcare for graduate students.

Due to a separate bidding process, USG employees are provided a different health benefit from a different healthcare provider.  

Georgia State attempted to extend their contract with Pearce and Pearce, but the Georgia Department of Administrative Services (DOAS) denied that request.

DOAS procures all goods and services for all state agencies, including Georgia State. They chose not to extend the Pearce and Pearce contract, accepting a bid from UnitedHealthcare instead.

“We changed companies because of the submitted responses to the University System of Georgia,” Said DOAS in an online statement. “UnitedHealthcare provided the best services for the best price when compared with the other vendors submitting proposals.”

Cost increases include additional benefits for students.   

“Many of the changes graduate students in previous years had actually requested,” Jones said. “The cost did go up, but this may have occurred with the Pearce & Pearce plan as well.”

Jones said that cost increases include new wellness visits and pre-existing conditions coverage, along with minimal vision and dental benefits. Injury to natural teeth and vision care as it relates to disease is included. Regular dental cleanings and eye exams are not included.

“Competition for quality graduate students seems to mandate an offering of some type health insurance for the students to purchase,” Jones said.

Mandatory coverage of graduate students began six years ago in an attempt to provide a more competitive recruitment package.

Some graduate programs are troubled by the dramatic cost increase of the new coverage. Graduate students struggling to cover rising tuition may not be able to manage healthcare mandatory healthcare costs.

 “We are concerned that this dramatic increase in out-of-pocket expenses will negatively impact recruitment and retention of students in our department and lead more students to seek outside employment while pursuing their degrees, which will increase the length of time it takes to complete their degrees and increase the number of students that are forced to withdraw from the program,” Ruediger said.

Boyd expressed concerns about older members of the biology program potentially enduring the most hardship since older students experience the most dramatic increase in insurance rates. He said the age diversity of the biology program is one of its most important strengths.

“In fact, in my lab of six, I am the only student under the age of 27,” Boyd said. “We, as graduate students of the Biology Department, embrace this diversity and feel that it makes our department stronger; the faculty mirrors this sentiment.”

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