Healthcare Working Group

Duke Graduate Students hold a triangle pose during the "Exercise Your Rights" action in Spring 2017

Duke Graduate Students hold a triangle pose during the "Exercise Your Rights" action in Spring 2017

What We've Done

As a union, we prioritize reliable and affordable healthcare access, which includes pro-family policies for parental leave and leaves of absence, full access to university health and wellness resources. The DGSU Healthcare Working Group was formed to make sure that Duke upholds its obligations to its students’ health and wellbeing.

We won back access to the gym for 4th and 5th year students through our outdoor “Exercise Your Rights” action last year, as well as secured extended parental leave. Up until the fall of 2015, the Graduate School covered gym fees for students in the first five years of the PhD program. In light of rising health care premiums, the Graduate School judged it would no longer cover those fees for students past their third year. In spring 2017, the DGSU circulated a petition, wrote editorials in the Duke Chronicle and staged public gym classes, in order to demonstrate the need for access to  one of the primary tools available to graduate students to care for their physical and mental wellbeing. In April, Dean McClain reinstated the former policy, promising that “Ph.D. students will have free access to the university's recreational facilities during their first five years at Duke.” (Email from Dean McClain to Graduate Students, April 14, 2017). This administrative decision illustrates the power of the actions that we have taken over the past year.

In the spring of 2018, we showed up in numbers at a town hall run by Duke’s Student Health Insurance Advisory Committee (SHIAC) to voice our concerns about proposed changes to our health insurance that would have added an expensive deductible to our plan and removed benefits like coverage for dependent care. We also attended a second SHIAC meeting to ensure that Duke University would continuing providing health insurance that includes these important benefits.

What We're Doing

However, we still have a long way to go — dental care is unaffordable for many of us, and those of us with dependents get little help from the grad student health insurance plan. Additionally, in most disciplines the average degree takes more than 5 years to complete--meaning that hundreds of graduate student workers past their fifth year are still excluded from gym access, and need to pay for gym fees alongside covering the cost of their own health insurance (not to mention continuation fees). We plan to continue working with SHIAC in order to protect our current benefits and work towards truly reliable and affordable healthcare for all graduate students at Duke. See below for information on the current status of our health plan and specific resources relating to childcare, mental health, dental, vision, chronic conditions, disability services, fitness and nutrition.

Graduate Student Health: What You Need to Know

Graduate students are enrolled in the student health plan through Blue Cross / Blue Shield. As stated on its website, the Student Blue plan “provides quality health insurance to meet the specific needs of university students.” The plan, which we share with the undergraduate population, was developed to serve their needs, and as such, can lack crucial support for the needs of working adults and families. Below you will find information on some key healthcare issues that affect many graduate students here at Duke.

New and Expecting Parents

Student Blue covers 80% of delivery and prenatal care but graduate students have paid upwards of $3000-5,000 with insurance and depending on delivery and emergency procedures needed. Post delivery, the cost of adding a child dependent onto your Student Blue insurance is $255.83 per month. It costs $450.83 to add a spouse and $706.67 to add a family. (2017-2018 rates) Duke provides a childcare subsidy, to which parents have to apply and that is not guaranteed. The maximum yearly subsidy is  $5000, though receipt of the subsidy does not guarantee the full amount. Additionally there is a 3-year cap on this subsidy. The application can be found here. The graduate school has an accommodation for new parents which can be found here.

Mental Health

Duke offers a limited number of appointments through CAPS (Counseling and Psychological Services). According to the CAPS website “CAPS is designed as a short-term care clinic and, therefore, we are limited in our ability to provide care for students needing long-term or more open-ended care. In addition, certain specialized services are not available through CAPS. These include ADD/ADHD services and Substance abuse treatment. We do recognize that several our students will need longer term or a more specialized type of care and we have a strong network with area community providers for these.  For more information on these community resources, contact the CAPS Referral Coordinator at 919-660-1000.” CAPS can refer you to local psychological services. The Student Blue Plan includes office visits at a $25 copay as well as 80% coverage of “other service rendered in office” and “Inpatient / outpatient” care.

Dental and Vision

The Student Blue plan does not include dental care. There is a dental service through the campus Wellness Center which offers a savings plan for Duke students for $129 per six month term. The plan does not cover major procedures but offers discounted rates. For more info click here.

Additionally beginning in fall 2017 all those enrolled in the Student Health Insurance Plan “are eligible for discounted dental visits through BASIX.” For more information on this service and to find providers who accept BASIX, click here.

Duke covers a routine, annual eye exam and provides up to $100 reimbursement for glasses or contact lenses per benefit period. To get reimbursed you must pay up front and then fill out a form, linked here.

Chronic Conditions

Graduate students who incur substantial costs not covered by their medical plan can apply for aid through Duke’s Medical Expense Assistance Program. This program only provides aid to students and not their dependents. Before a student can apply, they must first determine their out-of-pocket expenses and submit insurance claims. Awarded grants can be up to $5,000. The dean of the Graduate School will consider exceptions. The application also requires students to provide a one-page personal statement detailing their illness and why these expenses are a hardship.


Disabled grad students must apply for accommodations through this form. There is a lengthy process to acquire approval for accommodation requests explained here. If a student has a temporary disability--a broken leg, fracture or sprain--they can contact Duke Student Health Center at (919) 681-9355 to request temporary transportation services. Students can also apply for a medical need parking pass.

Fitness and Nutrition Services

Students who want nutritional counseling can visit Duke’s Student Health Nutrition Services for a consultation, follow-up appointments and group counseling sessions.

Thanks to DGSU ‘s collective organizing around gym fees, gym access is once again covered through 5 years. For more info on gym memberships see the Duke recreation site.


If you wish to hear more about these policies from people who have direct experience please email