Community Message 3-25-08: Student Health Insurance

March 25, 2008

Student Health Insurance

Dear Friends,

I write to bring you up-to-date on our efforts regarding doctoral student health insurance. Let me begin with some context. As you know, this issue has been a matter of great concern for the last few years. Under the leadership of the Office of Student Affairs, we’ve investigated a variety of group plans that might provide affordable coverage for our students. High regional rates have made that a difficult task. Plans with low premiums offer little in the way of coverage; those that promise more comprehensive service charge higher rates. The CUNY-GHI voluntary plan currently on offer attempts to strike a balance, but its premiums remain burdensome.

Last fall, we explored a new approach. Then Provost Edwards researched the insurance options available to students at the four SUNY University Centers. She learned that at those campuses doctoral students who taught or provided compensated service were eligible for subsidized insurance via the New York State Health Insurance Plan (NYSHIP) for State Employees. We shared the results of Provost Edward’s investigation with the leadership of the Chancellery, the PSC, and the DSC and sought their assistance in achieving parity with SUNY in this regard.  I’m pleased to say that response from those quarters has been very positive. Most significant, the Chancellor has pledged his support and has contacted the leaders of the state legislature on behalf of this initiative.  Further, the university has included health insurance parity as a priority in its recently proposed Master Plan.

The parity we seek, I emphasize, involves doctoral students who teach or provide other instructional services at CUNY colleges; those, in other words, who receive a paycheck from the State of New York. SUNY doctoral students who are not in this category do not qualify for subsidized insurance. These students are offered group plans; in some cases, Stony Brook for example, enrollment is mandatory. The premiums for these plans are significantly lower than those of the CUNY-GHI voluntary plan but not because the state subsidizes them. Rather, they are more affordable, first, because, premiums outside the metropolitan area are generally lower; second, because the four SUNY campuses have medical centers which serve as a first line of care for students (each of the SUNY University Centers assesses a student health fee); and third, because the SUNY insurance pools, which include undergraduates as well as graduate students, are larger.

I am convinced that we are moving in the right direction and that we will ultimately reach our goal, but the current fiscal circumstances of the state, and by extension those of the university, are such that time-lines are disingenuous. What I can tell you is that advancing this cause is and will remain at the top of our priority list.
Warm regards,

Bill Kelly