Graduate student insurance threatened

After the 2016-2017 academic year, the Internal Revenue Service and multiple government departments will enforce universities to stop providing students with subsidized healthcare insurance plans.

Administrators and graduate students met Wednesday to discuss how this will play out. Kathryn Harris, GPSA’s director of legislative affairs, said WSU currently provides a subsidized healthcare plan to graduate students with assistantship.

The subsidized plan WSU currently provides covers a $3,000 premium and includes a dental and vision plan, Harris said. The current healthcare plan provided to graduate students by the university will be good until August 2017, Harris said, but she is unsure what will happen after the plan is discontinued.

“It’s something that graduate students worry about a lot,” Harris said. “We would like to know what the game plan is.”

The reason for the new policy is that Health and Human Services determined the healthcare plan to be an individual/subsidized plan and not an employee plan, said Patricia Sturko, senior associate dean of the graduate school. She said the university, according to the Affordable Care Act market reform, would be breaking the law if it continued providing subsidized healthcare.

If WSU were to choose not to comply with the new policy when it is enforced, Sturko said the IRS would fine the university every day on incompliance.

“Everybody’s in a bind,” Sturko said. “We’re here advocating for you as much as we can.”

While Harris said there is effort to try and push the IRS to overturn the guidance, it may not be overturned in time. If the subsidized healthcare plan ends, Harris said WSU administration could decide not to provide graduate student health insurance altogether, or put the $3,000 premium fee toward the students currently provided housing stipends.

Another option might be to put graduate students on an employer healthcare plan, she said, which may be more expensive and provide fewer benefits. WSU needs to figure out how much an insurance provider would charge for an employee plan before creating one, said William Andrefsky, dean of the graduate school.

While there are plans in mind, Renee Coleman-Mitchell, executive director of student health services, said no major details can be given until later on when more information is provided.

Harris said while students should take action, they should also be respectful and understanding toward those at the administrative level at WSU.

“Don’t let them forget about us,” Harris said, “but also realize they are not the enemy.”