After the University announced its plan to invest $20 million in the Ithaca and Tompkins County communities last month, part of which will be allocated to local healthcare initiatives, student-elected Trustee Mao Ye grad hopes that such attention will also be given to uninsured individuals within the Cornell community.
“Cornell has invested money in Ithaca so that low-cost healthcare can be available to local residents,” he said, noting that many graduate students opt to use local recourses rather than those provided by the University. “Since we can take care of students in our own community, there is no reason for Cornell’s health resources to compete with local clinics.”
During the Board of Trustee’s annual weekend meeting last October in Ithaca, Ye brought to light what he perceives to be a startling campus issue. He reported to the Student Life Committee, a subset of the Board of Trustees, that of the 1,200 dependents at Cornell, up to 800 may not have health insurance. A dependent is a lawful spouse or same-sex partner of an enrolled Cornell student, or any unmarried child under the age of 19 who is not self-supporting and who resides with, or is court-ordered to receive insurance by, the enrolled Cornell student.
Of these dependents, according to Ye, only 224 spouses and 161 children subscribe to Cornell’s Student Health Insurance Program, which costs $3,149. The premium an enrolled student must pay is $1,434. The price for dependents is higher than the average financial aid package of $2,500 given to graduate students who earn on average $20,000 for a nine-month appointment.
75 percent of eligible dependents, according to Mao, run the risk of being uninsured.
He identified students with families at Cornell to be the most vulnerable group as they “really struggle with the poverty and do not have energy to involve in the campus politics and fully express their concern,” he stated in an e-mail.
“The University has always been concerned about under-insured dependents,” said Allen Bova, director of risk management and insurance. “Students should also understand though, for the quality of the plan that Cornell offers, students and their dependents will never see a more affordable plan once they leave Cornell. For the money, I haven’t found a better plan.”
Mao’s speech evoked strong interest from the trustees and University administrators.
“Many trustees were reactive, and urged [the] administration to take action,” said Ye. “Some were shocked and surprised.”
Student Life Committee Chair Robert Harrison was in attendance at Mao’s presentation.
“We listened to Mao’s speech and are sensitive to its importance,” he said. “In addressing the issue, the board relies on the administration to implement plans.”
Mao has urged the administration to compile a survey that would enable the University to more accurately quantify how many uninsured dependents are at Cornell. Due to privacy laws, however, he acknowledged it is difficult to obtain such information. Compiling an accurate count is necessary for an effective plan to take affect.
“Without a survey, we won’t be able to know the budget for this initiative,” he said.
Bova also acknowledged the necessity of knowing the number of insured and uninsured dependents.
“We need good information to be able to make informed decisions and to be able to decide if we need to do more,” he said.
Although Mao recently introduced his healthcare initiative to the University administration, the price of health insurance for dependents has been a topic on the forefront of administrative agendas. Vice President of Student and Academic Services Susan Murphy ’73 said, “We have known that dependents have opted not to purchase health insurance, but have not routinely collected data.” Instead, the University administration relies on the Student Insurance Advisory Committee to gather data and give advice about how to take action.
“We have been aware of the problem Mao addressed, but not to the extent that he brought forth,” Murphy said.
Although Murphy has not received any concrete plans relating to dependent health insurance at Cornell, she acknowledged that it is a “complicated issue.” Completing “extensive analysis” on how many people would purchase the insurance, and at what cost, are questions that she said need to be answered before formulating a plan.