Report: Town Hall on Proposed Changes to Student Health Insurance

 DGSU members attending the recent Town Hall

DGSU members attending the recent Town Hall

DGSU made a strong showing at a recent town hall to voice our concerns about proposed changes to Duke’s student health insurance coverage. The town hall, organized by the Student Health Insurance Advisory Committee (SHIAC), was also attended by Kevin Welch, the Associate Director of Business & Finance at Duke Student Health, and Susan Wasiolek, the Associate Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students.

DGSU learned that premium costs for the current health insurance plan are expected to rise by ten to twenty percent, based on estimates that Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) provided Duke University. In order to reduce these costs, BCBS provided Duke and SHIAC representatives with a list of suggested changes to the current insurance plan, including removing dependent care, eliminating coverage for underused services, getting rid of affordable access to out-of-network care, or adding a more expensive deductible to the plan.

Based on conversations with graduate students over the past two years, DGSU developed an agenda for a better Duke that makes reliable and affordable healthcare access a top priority. In our conversations with colleagues across the university, we heard loud and clear that graduate students need pro-family policies as well as full coverage and access to university health and wellness resources. In order to elevate the voices of the thousands of graduate students who couldn't attend the forum in person, DGSU members spoke out strongly against the possible removal of dependent care in particular, a cut that would predominantly affect women, single parents, and older students. Members also noted that the option to add dependent care should be made more affordable, instead of being removed altogether. Both the administrators present agreed that cutting dependent care would be morally reprehensible; however, neither were willing or able to publicly commit to not removing dependent care from future Duke student health insurance plans.

DGSU maintains that shifting higher premium costs onto students while removing important coverage is unacceptable for a university as wealthy as Duke. The university has a responsibility to provide decent and affordable healthcare for graduate workers who put countless hours of labor into the university and often bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars of external grant and fellowship money. The amount of money in question to cover these rising costs, quoted to total about $2 million, is a negligible amount to Duke but increasing premiums and deductibles by hundreds of dollars represent an enormous financial burden to individual graduate students making $22,000 or less in a year.

We are deeply concerned about the prospect of Duke asking graduate students to absorb nearly $2 million in rising healthcare costs when many of us are already struggling to make ends meet. With healthcare costs rising nationwide and cost of living in Durham increasing, the university must make a plan to provide for its graduate workers, or graduate work at Duke will become all but financially impossible for anyone but the independently wealthy. We will continue to reach out to graduate students across campus to hear their perspective on Duke's proposed cuts and campaign for better and more affordable health insurance coverage for all Duke graduate students.