Hopkins raises cost and coverage of insurance

By MEAGAN PEOPLES and JOHN FRYE | September 20, 2018

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COURTESY OF TEACHERS AND RESEARCHERS UNITED TRU members raised healthcare concerns to the Hopkins administration.

Over the summer, some students were surprised to see the premium for the University-provided insurance plan rise by 10.4 percent. The price of the 2018-19 plan increased to accommodate for greater coverage and reduced deductibles and out-of-pocket (OOP) costs. This follows a 4.5 percent price increase in 2017, which was due to increasing national healthcare costs. 

The University automatcally enrolls students in one of two health plans unless students can demonstrate that they have a comparable healthcare provider. The Student Health Plan (SHP) is offered to postdoctoral researchers and graduate students in the Schools of Medicine, Nursing and Public Health. All other students are enrolled in the Consolidated Health Plan (CHP). International students are required to enroll in University insurance regardless of existing healthcare plans.

Executive Director of Human Resources Meredith Stewart explained in an email to The News-Letter that the changes came in part due to concerns raised by graduate students about the affordability and accessibility of healthcare. 

“The goal of these changes is to provide students access to preventive and needed health benefits with lower and more predictable out-of-pocket costs,” Stewart wrote.

One of the active contributors in the ongoing debate surrounding University healthcare is Teachers and Researchers United (TRU), an organization of graduate students seeking to improve working conditions and provide a voice for the University’s graduate population.

However, students like sophomore Jamie Chan still feel that University insurance is too costly. In an email to The News-Letter, she wrote that as an international student, she was required to enroll in the school plan. She feels as though the insurance is too expensive for the medical services she needs.

“There is really no need, and no additional benefit, for me to be on the school [plan],” Chan wrote. “On school insurance, I do receive certain services without additional costs (such as STD testing and the flu vaccine), but overall, they do not add up to how much I have to pay semesterly.”

Chan thought of the plan as expensive even before the price increase. 

“For how much it costs now, more services should be offered for free under the school insurance,” Chan wrote. 

However, senior Altarash Barthakur, also an international student, wrote in an email to The News-Letter that he is satisfied with his insurance plan overall. 

“I haven’t really had to use it except once, and it covered all the costs,” he said. “I’m not sure what it lacks compared to other schools.”

Meredith Stewart, executive director of Human Resources, wrote that changes made to the insurance plan include lower out-of-pocket costs for outpatient visits to mental health facilities, as well as a new copay structure for both primary care office visits and emergency room visits. This copay structure will create a fixed amount that must be paid for services. 

According to Stewart, the current University insurance premium is comparable to those of peer institutions.

During spring 2017, Stewart wrote, Provost Sunil Kumar assembled a group of graduate student representatives, faculty members and administrators to respond to student concerns. This group, called the Provost’s Advisory Team on Healthcare (PATH), analyzed the undergraduate healthcare plan and compared it both to the plans offered by peer institutions and to the benefits offered to graduate students under the Student Health Plan (SHP). 

The changes to the undergraduate health plan, Stewart wrote, make it correspond more closely to SHP. 

The University also made changes to SHP for the 2018-19 year. This includes coverage for dental and vision care, as well as total coverage for ambulances and emergency room visits.

Duncan Watts, a postdoctoral researcher in the Physics & Astronomy department, has been active in the ongoing debate surrounding University healthcare. Watts is a member of Teachers and Researchers United (TRU), an organization of graduate students seeking to improve working conditions and provide a voice for the University’s graduate population. 

While Watts appreciated the plan’s improved coverage, he and other TRU members worry that the plan still does not adequately cover issues relating to mental health. 

“Being a graduate worker, problems with mental health are at an elevated rate. Life is hard enough before you throw in the actual uncertainty of dealing with academia as a long-term prospective life choice,” he said.

Watts said that overall, he is happy with the changes in the coverage, but TRU will continue to work toward lowering insurance premiums for Hopkins students.

“Nothing’s perfect, and at some level you do have to say there will always be some issues with the insurance plan, even in an ideal world,” he said. “But we have shown that we can move towards that ideal world.”

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