Graduate student workers push to delay University health care plan switch 

Kaushiki Roy, News Reporter

Graduate student organization Underpaid at UT drafted an open letter to University administration May 28 in response to the new health care plan for graduate students, Academic Blue. 

The new default health care provider was announced to graduate students in April with the plan set to begin in September. However, it was met with pushback by students, according to previous reporting from the Texan.

The letter requested a delay in the new plan because of increased out-of-pocket costs, a $400 annual tax and reduced health coverage. While students will still have the option to change their program back to UT SELECT, this will include a $314.02 monthly premium.

“We’re trying to get them to delay by a year just to buy us (and the graduate school) more time,” said graduate student John Mellison. “There are some major issues not worked out, and their blanket answer to a lot of the shortcomings of this health insurance is to say there’s an emergency fund.” 

Underpaid at UT generated a petition with over 600 signatures as of June 6 from students and faculty calling for the University to delay when the insurance switch will take place, graduate student Annie Bares said. 

The administration sent a second schoolwide email May 21 providing more information on costs and quality of coverage. The administration also said they were working with Academic Blue to address coverage gaps and reimbursement plans. 

Bares said she still felt a lack of transparency from the administration and thought they were unclear on the details of this plan. 

“It’s been kind of a collective effort to figure out what the implications of this (health insurance plan) actually are because the information that we’ve received from the University is so unclear,” Bares said.

Maria Juenger, associate dean for Graduate Education Transformation, acknowledged that students with recurring medical costs would be disadvantaged with the new plan. 

“There certainly is a population among the graduate students that could see higher health care costs because the specific types of treatments they’re getting fall into that category,” Juenger said.

However, Juenger said graduate students will now be able to use University Health Services for no out-of-pocket cost and get free dental and vision. She said the administration is developing a response to the open letter.

Juenger said plans and details for a student support fund are ongoing and the University plans to battle the $400 per year tax by increasing lower-end worker salaries by 20-40%. 

Mellison said he does not think raising wages equates to cutting students’ benefits elsewhere. 

“They’re saving money, and people who are vulnerable will literally pay the difference,” Mellison said.

Juenger said although there have been estimates by the University on savings, there will not be a clear picture of those savings until 2023.

“The University may or may not save money because of this,” Juenger said. “That wasn’t the motivation.”