“There is still no more clarity”: UT Graduate School holds town hall to answer questions about health care plan switch, students still concerned

Kaushiki Roy, News Reporter

UT’s graduate school held a virtual town hall July 14 to address graduate students’ questions about the switch of health care plans from UT Select to Academic Blue that saved the University over $10 million and has caused student outcry over price and coverage. 

At the town hall, the most recent in a series of meetings set up to discuss the insurance switch,  panelist Kelly Lomasney, principal human resources consultant at the Office of the Associate  Vice President for Human Resources, said UT will pay the taxable insurance premium, which would have caused students to pay taxes on health insurance under Academic Blue, for all graduate employees. Lomasney also said that employee dependents will have 50% of their premium paid for by UT. 

Graduate student Kate Cronin, who is a member of student organization Underpaid at UT, said she still had questions after the town hall and hopes the administration will address the document Underpaid at UT put together to compare costs.

“In some ways, they tried to give some answers and in some ways they were backed into a corner and had to admit that this was rushed and that this is going to be more expensive for students,” Cronin said. “But there is still no more clarity.”

Maria Juenger, associate dean for Graduation Education Transformation, said all members who went through the switch from UT Select to Academic Blue will be eligible to receive a health care assistance fund. Juenger said this fund is distributed annually and eligible students can receive a minimum of $250 and maximum of $6,600 from the University to help them deal with adverse impacts of the change.

Cronin said she still does not believe this cost will balance out when considering copays for students with chronic disabilities, diagnostic tests and for people who give birth.

Juenger said in a previous interview with the Texan that “there certainly is a population among the graduate students that could see higher health care costs.” 

Mark Smith, dean of the Graduate School and senior vice provost for Academic Affairs, said the school will save approximately $10.9 million with the switch. Smith said the saved funds will be split with approximately $2 million supporting the Tuition Reduction Benefit fund, $6 million to increase teaching assistant and assistant instructor salaries, and around $2.9 million to support fellowships and additional scholarships. 

In a previous report, Underpaid at UT estimated the value of savings at around $5 million. Cronin said this was the first time students received a confirmation of how much the University would save.

“We underestimated the savings by about 50%,” Cronin said. “Obviously, we want them to raise these stipends, but we refuse to concede that the only way to do that is to cut everyone’s health insurance.”

The University has also offered the solution of using University Health Services, which will be free under their new plan. However, Cronin said she is concerned about relying on UHS for services.

“There are often wait times for UHS and I’m scared to see what happens when thousands more students start using UHS for primary care,” Cronin said.