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Dueling letters about changes to our healthcare

The following are two letters, one from the chancellor to the campus community and the other a response from a grad student.

To the Campus Community:

I am writing today to provide an update on the university’s Student Health Insurance Plan (SHIP). At my request, a special committee is exploring possible modifications to SHIP as it develops competitive bid specifications for coverage in fiscal 2013.

Associate Chancellor Susan Pearson is chairing this broad-based panel, which will review the current coverage and discuss different mixes of policy benefits and corresponding costs, including premiums, co-pays and co-insurance. It will analyze bids submitted by vendors and recommend a vendor in April.

Insurance changes implemented this year were driven by the need to treat students equitably, regardless of their choice of insurance, and to develop a financial plan that puts University Health Services (UHS) on a sound financial footing, enabling the planning of a new health services facility for patients that meets 21st century needs. Eliminating the subsidy for SHIP subscribers that resulted from differing billing practices for different insurance plans is a fair and financially sound practice, and the committee will evaluate options with that policy in place. As the committee proceeds with its work, the administration will be mindful of its bargaining obligations and will consult with the

Graduate Employee Organization when appropriate.

Members of the committee are:

•       Susan Pearson, chair, associate chancellor

•       Bernette Daly, executive director of UHS

•       Donna Yezierski, associate director, UHS

•       Phil Marquis, associate treasurer, UMass president’s office

•       Andrew Russell, director of risk management, UMass president’s office

•       Matthew Wamback, senior insurance analyst, UMass president’s office

•       Andrew Mangels, budget director

•       Yevin Roh, Student Government Association president

•       Thomas Herndon, Graduate Student Senate

Providing assistance to the committee will be HBC consultants Steve

Beckley and Doreen Hodgkins.

The university and individual members of our community are grappling with surging healthcare costs. This committee is representative of the campus and includes experts in healthcare and finance. We face another year of difficult choices, and we will benefit from broad input as we identify and weigh our options.

The committee will shortly announce a vehicle for input from SHIP subscribers.

Robert C. Holub

Chancellor

 

Dear Chancellor Holub,

Thank you for the letter explaining the new committee that will be examining SHIP. I appreciate that the administration has seen the wisdom of GEO and GSS’s requests to have such a committee, although I also know that some members of both organizations are a bit put off that you seem to take credit for the idea.

I’m writing because two things struck me about this. One is that your letter continues the patronizing tone of past letters in which you have attempted to convince the campus community, and in particular, graduate students, that things the administration is going are for the best. The best for whom? We know the answer to that. We also know what the real costs of these changes are in a way that I am quite sure the administration has either never felt or has forgotten. We know what the rhetoric is, and how it is assembled. We know what subsidized health care is like, and, socialist as it may sound, we thought it worked. Especially since we aren’t legally qualified for state-subsidized insurance because we’re full-time graduate students at a state school.

The second thing that struck me is the constitution of the committee. One undergrad. One grad student. Seven administrators who see the bottom line but don’t necessarily understand the costs to students. Even the graduate program directors can see some of the costs as they filter down through to student enrollment. The health insurance at this university used to be good enough that graduate students would decide to come here despite lower stipends than at other schools. The constant erosion of our benefits isn’t going to make UMass more attractive. And a committee of administrators plus a couple of token students isn’t going to convince many people that it is truly inclusive.

If you truly want this to be the real flagship campus, you need to understand that actions like this on the part of the administration are not in your best interest. We already know that they’re not in ours.

A Concerned Graduate Student

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