Student Medical Insurance Plan & the Affordable Care Act

Matt Ryg

Some of you have been curious about the relationship between the existing Student Medical Insurance Plan and requirements of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  The intention of this briefing is to bring you up to speed on the latest information regarding the issue.

Responding to a GAU Member inquiry, we recently contacted Mr. Jim Hunsaker, the Assistant Director of Student Health Services at SIUC.  Jim replied with a couple of pieces of information that may be of interest to GAU Members.

First, he said “participation in the Student Health Insurance Plan will not lead to the student paying a penalty or fine under the ACA regulations at this time.”  So that’s good news.  Individual students will not be penalized or fined because the Student Health Insurance Plan does not provide some basic services required by the ACA.  But what about all the ACA benefits we should be getting, like prescription drug coverage, expanded preventative care, the irrelevancy of preexisting conditions, etc.  Isn’t the ACA the law of the land?

Second, Mr. Hunsaker said that because SIUC has a ‘self-funded’ Student Health Insurance Plan, we meet the “Minimum Essential Coverage” requirement of the ACA.  That’s right – we are ‘technically’ ACA compliant without all the benefits of actually being fully ACA compliant.  Again, our student health insurance counts as “minimum essential coverage.”  Mr. Hunsaker provided some excellent language from an ACA bulletin for our review.

So what do we do?

GAU Members are encouraged to read the “Side Letter on Student Health Care” located on page 32 of our 2010-2014 Collective Bargaining Agreement.  The Side Letter includes some excellent language that helps GAU set the stage for major changes to the way students at SIUC pay for medical care.  It begins: “Access to quality and affordable health care affects all students at the University including undergraduate and graduate students.”  And reads: “The University recognizes that graduate students, including those represented by the Union have prioritized a need to improve the health care benefits available to students and their families.”  The University knows we want better health care benefits.  Nothing has changed in the 22 months since this letter was written and signed.

GAU continues to work hard to make access to better health care a priority for our Members.

The Side Letter also establishes a student health insurance task force.  The facilitator of this task force, Mr. Jim Hunsaker, has committed verbally and in writing to convene the first meeting of the fall semester this month.  Graduate students Chuck DiStefano and Lyndsey Hanson will represent GAU on the task force, and will be looking for input from Members as the process develops.

GAU Members should also have some quick background on the recommendations made by the student health insurance task force last year.

The University sent out a Request for Proposals (RFP) to improve the student insurance plan.  The average proposal (of four) received from the 2013 RFP demonstrated an average $500 increase in the cost of a student policy (per semester) if SIUC moves to a fully insured product.  The recommendations from the student health insurance task force were clear: students want better and more health coverage and are willing to pay for it.  When push came to shove in May of 2013, the University shamefully said no to quality health care for students.

We anticipate that the University will issue another RFP this academic year, much like the one sent out last year.  No one knows whether or not the University will honor students this year by making the livelihood and health of students and our families a top priority.  We can only hope.

However, GAU anticipates major changes to student health insurance very soon.  SIUC’s Student Health Insurance Plan will not exist as a small self-insured and funded plan for long.  Full ACA compliance and the operation of a fully insured plan is likely within the next two years, barring any major or short-sighted roadblocks thrown up by the University.

Part of our contract renegotiations this spring will include a GAU led initiative to mobilize students to speak-out to the Board of Trustees, the Chancellor’s Office, the Provost, and the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee.  We will be working with our representatives on the student health insurance task force and strongly advocating recommendations for better quality health insurance for students.

The time has come for better health care for all students at SIUC.

I hope you will consider joining GAU if you’re not already a member, and I humbly ask for your voice to speak up for the interests of graduate students.  Thanks for your time.

In Solidarity,

Matt Ryg

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