I don't share this often on the blog, but I'm in graduate school getting my Ph.D. Something that helped me to decide graduate school was right for me was the fact that I was offered a full tuition waiver, monthly stipend that was somewhat livable, and health insurance subsidy as part of my contract. This contract is good for at least five years, although the program often takes longer. Without these things, I was unsure whether I would be able to get through graduate school debt-free which was a BIG concern for me and my family.
On Friday, August 14th, a mere 14 hours before our current cycle of insurance expired, we received a campus-wide e-mail from the associate vice chancellor for graduate studies letting us know that we would no longer be receiving our health insurance subsidies in future semesters. Meaning, as of the end of the day on August 14th, we were all uninsured. The Affordable Care Act, and specifically an IRS ruling that made subsidies for independent health plans illegal, which is what the vice chancellor blamed for this decision.
However, this ruling was made in 2013 and is just NOW being implemented. Further, the MU system of campuses was made aware of this THREE WEEKS prior to sending us this e-mail, and other campuses found out THREE DAYS after. To make matters worse, the e-mail that came down from the vice chancellor was only sent out to students and was not previously discussed with department chairs, leaving a large majority of administration and staff in the dark to what challenges were ahead for their students. Not to mention, incoming students who had just arrived on campus, were not made aware that the insurance they were promised would no longer be available for them.
MU, in response to this news, told all students they would receive a ONE TIME stipend to cover the cost of their insurance for fall semester. What they failed to mention, however, was that this stipend was taxable just like any other income, and therefore would not even fully cover a fall semester of coverage. The only reason many of us are able to live on the stipend we get each month (which is under the poverty line) is because we have health insurance subsidies. This additional cost is a heavy burden.
The Monday after this announcement, hundreds of graduate students gathered for an open forum where we were able to learn more about why this happened as well as our long- and short-term options. At the end, we had an open Q&A where we heard from women who were 9 months pregnant and suddenly without insurance, students who were scheduled to go into surgery the next morning, and international students who already have to pay a significant amount in fees every month and face deportation without proof of insurance. All suddenly without insurance. Heartbreaking. Thankfully, they did have a few options, none of which were guaranteed, however.
That said: Way to fight, @mizzou grad students! It's not over, but you're at least being heard. #GradInsurance— Travis Stern (@TravisStern) August 21, 2015
I feel incredibly disrespected and undervalued by our administration. Without graduate students who teach undergraduates, write grant applications, bring in research money, and get publications, the university would be a in bad place. However, despite this hard work, we are payed below the poverty line and now they want to take our insurance away?! Let me just say that I understand this is a federal ruling. However, many other universities have gotten around this by offering their students faculty insurance, re-classifying their insurance as group instead of individual health plans, or offered stipends that would actually cover the full amount of insurance post-tax. Where was the consideration of these options?
I will say, however, that many of the departments and faculty across MU have been incredibly supportive of us. They have issued statements saying that they fully support us in our walkout that is scheduled for this Wednesday and will impose no sanctions on the students that choose to participate. Since this came out last Friday, the Chancellor has issued numerous statements and a letter of apology, however, the letter that the graduate professional council sent with a list of demands, had been largely ignored.
On Friday, August 21st, we learned that there would be a "delayed implementation" of this new policy, meaning we have insurance at least for a short period of time while the administration tries to figure out alternatives. However, this is only a short-term fix and still fails to address the lack of affordable graduate student housing, lack of affordable on-campus childcare (which was taken away last year unexpectedly without plans to rebuild, causing a number of graduate student families considerable stress), and resources to ease the burden for international students (read all the demands here).
During the height of #GradInsurance debacle I was angry at #Mizzou. Now I just feel embarrassed by my institution. This is a complete mess.— Rachel Zamzow (@RachelZamzow) August 22, 2015
I am incredibly proud of the graduate students for advocating for their rights, and for the support of our faculty. However, this is only a short-term solution and we still have a long way to go.
So friends, in support of graduate student rights, or at least me personally, I ask you to help us. If you're a local, there will be a campus-wide rally from noon to 1pm at the columns, please consider joining. If you're not a local, you can still wear RED along with us on Wednesday to show your support from afar. And whether you're a local or not, please continue to tweet about #gradinsurance and follow @MUgradrights on twitter.
Thanks for being a faithful audience as always. This issue really touches close to home.
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