October 31, 2000

New Medical Coverage Approved for Graduate Students

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The Board of Trustees approved, Saturday, President Hunter R. Rawlings III’s recommendation to insure the health of all graduate students whose expenses are fully paid by the University.

The new policy will cover the health insurance costs for 3,150 graduate students.

“I am very pleased that the Board of Trustees has taken this action on behalf of our graduate students,” Rawlings said. “This coverage will help ensure the well-being of our students and will enable us to continue to attract the highest caliber of graduate students to our campus.”

In 1974, the University mandated that all students be covered by its Student Health Insurance Plan (SHIP), unless they subscribe to another plan that meets Cornell’s requirements. However, the mandate did not apply to graduate students, leaving many without adequate care according to University standards.

“It lowers the barriers, or removes some of the barriers, for health care for grad students,” said Sharon Dittman, associate director of University Health Services. “We hope many of them will get better health care coverage.”

The benefit from the Trustee decision will vary for students whose positions or fellowships are controlled by the University, by an external foundation or by a grant from a faculty member in an individual Cornell college.

“With the amount of money that the University was willing to allocate, I was not able to [cover] every student equally,” Cohen said explaining why some students would receive stipend raises of nine percent, but others would benefit less.

He added that it would not be cost-effective to try covering every single student, because the costs would rise higher relative to the benefits for each marginal student covered.

In all, the University will save graduate students about $3,000,000 next year. The SHIP premium for 2001-02 is estimated at approximately $950 per student.

As faculty and staff have been working to attract the highest caliber of graduate students, current graduate students have assisted in the process, sharing their ideas for the health coverage that would suit them best.

“We have been working closely with the Dean [Cohen] for the past two to three years,” said Patrick Carr grad, president of the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly.

Carr noted for graduate students SHIP meets many needs.

“It has low deductibles [and] high coverage,” Carr said, comparing SHIP to other coverage plans out there.

As members of the National Association of Graduate and Professional Students, Cornell graduate students are eligible to receive a health insurance plan from the association. However, Carr pointed out, the NAGPS health insurance plan is actually inadequate by the Cornell standard.

Still, many students constantly remain without a health insurance plan at all or describe their insufficient coverage on the University’s SHIP waiver form. Cohen conducted a recent audit to determine how many graduate students fall into one of these two categories.

“The ballpark range was so high,” Cohen said, “that when we saw it, we were shocked.”

About 50 percent of graduate students are inadequately insured, Cohen estimated.

SHIP is different from many other health insurance providers, offering flexibility that is particularly unique to a graduate student’s needs, Dittman said.

For instance, she said the plan will include medical evacuation and repatriation. Thus, a student in need of medical care while abroad can be brought home for treatment.

“It also has a system for helping people find appropriate health care anywhere in the world,” Dittman said.

Additionally, SHIP provides referral for specialty care, Dittman said, and that is something many students do not realize.

The increased enrollment in SHIP that is expected from the Trustee decision will likely translate into a greater demand for services at Gannett Health Center, something Dittman said the University is prepared to deal with.

Cohen suggested the University may conduct a similar audit of undergraduates in the future.

Archived article by Matthew Hirsch