Written by Scott LaRochelle, office manager at UAW Local 2322
UAW members from the Graduate Employee Organization (GEO) at UMass joined with other area coalitions in fighting back against changes to the university health care system. The changes will cut services as well as jobs, making it more difficult for students to get care they already pay for. The Amherst fire chief along with other community members wrote letters about how this will impact the Amherst city emergency services and in turn the city residents themselves.
At an event in February supporters marched through campus to deliver more than a thousand postcards stating that as alumni the signers would not be giving any more money to the college in the future. They believe they were already being asked to give more than their fair share now. The march ended back at the student union building where a public forum was held in the student lounge.
Among the speakers on hand were:
Keith Wrightson is the lead organizer of the Responsible Employer Policy Coalition at UMass, which consists of 45 organizations. Keith came out of the building trades so he understands that what UMass is doing to get the new UHS building is hurting people. He told everyone that they [UMass officials] tend to use unlicensed workers and players that cut corners. This includes using cheap materials that have possible health risks. These foreign materials are being introduced into the student environments. Sick Building Syndrome is a real problem. World Health Organization reported that these materials account for 30% of new and remodeled construction since 1984. Keith also mentioned that a new report documenting the bad practices UMass engages in was released on February 24.
Dr. Pierre Rouzier is a physician at UMass University Health Services (UHS). The doctor spoke of his concern over the care of the students. Since he heard about the changes, he has been thinking about the financial impact on his patients. He works in sports medicine and gave an example of costs: if someone tears their ACL, between $3,500 and $4,000! How many students would be able to afford that? Maybe they could wait, but what if it is an emergency, like needing your appendix out? He’d like to see more research before cuts are implemented.
Kathy Rhines is the chairperson of the Professional Staff Union. Kathy talked about how private hospitals don’t see the populations that the campus does, implying that there would be an increased burden on our community hospitals if student have to go off campus for help. She explained that her job gives her a good understanding of finances and how to read the general ledger. Cutting the lab and pharmacy will cause future cuts to the program down the line. These two programs are revenue generators, take those away and you will not be sustainable past year four, she said. She later spoke to the question of billing practices at UHS. For the past 18 years Aetna has not been billed. In the last 6 months they began billing this company and during that half a year made $3 million! Others such as Tufts and Blue Cross were billed, but not Aetna. WHY? This will be one question brought forth in the discussion to look for alternative ways to make changes to UHS without additional costs or cuts to necessary services.
Derek Doughty, a graduate student and president of Graduate Employee
Organization (GEO), spoke about a point in time more than a decade ago when he and his friends needed the services of UHS. Although the UHS lab was able to isolate and help him and his friends, his girlfriend was not so fortunate. He attributes the lives saved to the incredible work done at the University Health Services. Their lab is a “standard bearer for excellence throughout the country,” Derek exclaimed. He continued by stating that you “don’t go gutting what is helping maintain the prestige of health services.” Derek is now on the committee reviewing the proposed changes.
Adina Giannelli is a graduate student employee in the department of public health, the Graduate Women’s Network Coordinator, and a proud GEO member. Adina approached the platform with her two-month old strapped to her chest. She talked about how she could speak to how these changes to UHS would affect her as a student, an employee, and as a GEO member. She wanted to speak to the inequity of the current health plan, or how as a mother of a new child she has watched her small income drained from her bank account and funneled back to the University by way of the University Health Services and its providers. She wasn’t there to talk about the financial challenges she and others have faced since August of last year. Instead she stated that she was there as a representative of the University Status of Women’s Council and wanted to offer their support to GEO and the other student organizations currently fighting the health care changes. Even though the majority of the council would not be affected, they recognize how the entire campus will be affected. She stated that students were the least able to bear the economic burden and that the students were the people the university exists to serve.
Another Graduate student spoke about a medical condition he was diagnosed with when living out west. It happened four years ago and the blood work alone cost $10,000. He enrolled in the insurance plan to make sure he could afford to get the medication and see specialists in order to stay healthy. He chose to come to Massachusetts to better his education, receive better benefits and to marry his fiancée. He was forced to enroll in the student health insurance and is now faced with the possibility of having to leave school if the proposed changes at UMass go through. He currently makes $19,000 a year working on campus. His medications for next year will cost him $32,000, which won’t be a problem if things don’t change. If they do, one bottle of pills will be paid for next time. The other two medications will cost him $2,000 for that same month. After that, the next 11 months will all be out of pocket for him. Because of his condition he cannot go to a regular doctor, he needs to see a specialist. He hasn’t seen a breakdown of costs because of the coverage he currently has. This student expressed how terrified he is at what the costs may be with the upcoming changes being proposed. An outside doctor would cost him 15% every time. He figures visits alone would eat up a quarter of his salary and that is if he remains healthy.
The members and officers of UAW 2322 and the Graduate Employee Organization wish to express their gratitude to everyone who came forward (in person or through letters) to speak about how changes will affect them, tell their personal stories, and ask their friends, family and the community to join the fight against these unnecessary changes to the University Health Services.