Several California universities have discontinued family health insurance programs for graduate students, claiming they are more cost than benefit for both parties involved.
Rising rates have recently caused UC Berkeley to cut health care for the dependents of graduate students, while Stanford students lost theirs two years ago.
Graduate students at UC Davis have been without dependent health care for four-and-a-half years.
James Hodgson, chair of the Graduate Student Association at UC Davis said nobody is to blame for the soaring rates; it was just the nature of the industry.
“Rates for the plan at Davis were determined by benefits history, and there weren’t a lot of dependents,” he said. “It reached a point where people were better getting a private plan than going with the UC ones.“
This lack of dependent health care forces more families onto government programs like Medi-Cal, and has a direct impact on the decision of whether or not to start a family while in graduate school, said Marrah Lachowicz, a Ph.D. candidate in comparative psychology.
“As a female graduate student I’ve had several friends directly affected by the lack of dependent health care on campus,” she said.
Lachowicz spoke with a female nurse practitioner who mentioned that she’d been seeing less women in the graduate age group able to have children. Lachowicz explained that the lack of dependent health coverage and restrictions in prenatal coverage are very discouraging to someone considering having a child while in graduate school.
“It’s unfortunate because in general Davis is a very family-friendly city and community but our own programs do not support women of child-bearing age to have children and make sure they have the coverage they need,” she said.
The Graduate Student Health Insurance Plan, or GSHIP, is prone to fluctuation because it is not subsidized like the plan for undergraduates.
Rates for the undergraduate SHIP have also risen, but in a controlled manner because students are required to have coverage, which provides a steady stream of people to keep the cost down.
“Basically healthy people are subsidizing [the undergraduate plan] and keeping the rates low for people who actually need the insurance,” said Jeffery Gibeling, dean of graduate studies. “When the plan becomes optional and the group gets smaller, it becomes harder to manage the rate and cheaper to pursue and individual plan.“
As rates rise, fewer people find the insurance economically beneficial and choose not to subscribe – sending the price for remaining subscribers even higher in proportion to the falling number of members.
“Some campuses in the UC still have dependent health care for graduate students, but at an unaffordable rate,” Gibeling said.
If UC Davis were to bring back dependent health care under the existing system, it still would not solve the problem, he said.
Gibeling, who is on the national council of graduate schools and will be serving his term as president beginning Dec. 2009, believes that UC would be significantly more attractive to prospective graduate students if it could offer a systemwide dependent health care plan.
“With a systemwide dependent health care plan we’d be less likely to have the same kind of price spikes that cause a cost spiral and people to drop insurance just by virtue of having a larger pool of people,” said Hodgson, who trusts Dean Gibeling to bring attention to this on the national level.
“We really need to look at this as a national problem, because it‘s going to be – it just hasn’t hit the radar screen yet,” Hodgson said. “But as a member of GSHIP I’m very concerned with trying to address it on the personal level within UCD.“
MIKE DORSEY can be reached at email@example.com.