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Survey: University health plan costly for graduate students

By J. Ferguson
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday, November 28, 2005
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A recent survey of health insurance programs offered by the UA and 15 of its peer institutions found glaring differences in terms of cost and coverage between plans.

The survey, performed over the last six months by members of the Graduate and Professional Student Council, found that unlike the UA, eight of the 15 peer institutions have some type of prescription drug coverage, said Randi Tanglen, GPSC Research and Policy director.

Several of the 15 institutions also offer the annual premium for students who want to add a spouse or children, Tanglen said.

In April, a GPSC survey of graduate and professional students found that health insurance and financial aid were their highest priorities, said Paul Thorn, GPSC vice president of external affairs.

"It is something we hear a lot about. I think that it is important to graduate students," Tanglen said.

The survey prompted an investigation by the GPSC to gauge comparable levels of insurance at similar universities, Tanglen said. The results, she said, were not entirely unexpected.

"The plan could be worse but it could be better," Tanglen said.

One of the greatest concerns is the annual premiums for spouses and families, which the GPSC said were "prohibitively expensive at all of the peer institutions," in a press release.

While some institutions, such as the University of California, Berkeley, do not even offer this coverage for children and spouses, the $5,572 premium was not the most expensive. The University of Wisconsin-Madison has the highest premium at $7,644, according to the press release.

Prescription drug coverage and an optional dental plan is another important issue concerning graduate students, Tanglen said.

While the idea of a prescription drug plan is popular, the price of an additional premium to pay for a plan would negate any effects of the additional plan, said Kris Kreutz, director of Administrative Services at Campus Health Service.

Additional costs to the plan are also the reason the expense of adding a spouse or a dependent to the plan is pricey. The high cost of adding someone to a plan reflects the real cost, and lowering the price of the premium would mean raising the cost of the plan for all students, Kreutz said.

According the UA's student health Web site, adding a spouse to the plan would cost $1,836 next semester, adding a child would cost $1,569 next semester and adding both would cost $2,625 next semester.

"It is not appropriate for students to subsidize the cost," Kreutz said.

The GPSC plans on conducting another survey of graduate students in the spring, hoping to find out what other issues are important to them, Thorn said.

"We are also planning a survey of graduate and professional students to be held this spring, which will focus on health care needs," Thorn said. "One aim will be to determine the extent of the demand for supplemental benefits. We are also planning on asking whether students would pay more to add such benefits."

After the survey is completed, GPSC President Elaine Ulrich plans on using the data to push for changes in the UA insurance program. The GPSC is a member of the Student Health Advisory Committee, which advises the UA on student needs.

The Arizona Board of Regents will renegotiate the Student Health Insurance Program offered through United Health Care in 2006-2007.

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