Health care policy unsettling for grad assistants
By: Byron Hoskinson – Staff Writer
Recent revisions to the healthcare policy for university graduate assistants have provoked responses from within the University of Dayton graduate community and beyond.
The new policy, which went into effect Jan. 1, 2014, states that GAs hired after that date will only have health coverage for themselves, according to an Oct. 28, 2013 letter written by UD Human Resources Benefits Manager Beth Schwartz and addressed to UD Graduate Assistants. The previous policy, for an increased monthly premium, extended health coverage to the graduate’s spouse and children.
Current GAs who cover family members will be able to maintain that level of coverage until the end of their assistantship, according to Schwartz’s letter. However, the letter continued, GAs who gained employment before the cutoff but were not enrolled in the family coverage as of Nov. 15, 2013 will be unable to switch to it from their current plan.
Rachel McNeish, former secretary of the Graduate Student Association and a third year doctoral candidate in biology, said the policy change had been poorly communicated to the graduate community and its announcement had resulted in much confusion and concern.
On Nov. 8, 2013, a week after Schwartz’s letter was sent, an emergency meeting of the Academic Senate was called to session to address concerns regarding the lack of consultation about the health care changes. According to the meeting’s minutes, Vice President for Finance and Administrative Services Tom Burkhardt opened the meeting with a summary of the new policy and gave the university’s rationale for the changes.
Burkhardt stated one reason for removing coverage for GAs families was that none of UD’s 25 peer institutions had health insurance for GAs, much less their families.
McNeish said she disagreed with this statement and that research into the matter revealed that some peer institutions, such as Baylor, did offer health insurance for graduates. Baylor uses Blue Access, the same preferred personal
organization UD uses.
Vice president for human resources Joyce Carter said another reason for the coverage restriction was that the Affordable Care Act permitted dependents to stay on their parents’ health insurance until the age of 26. She said it was likely many would be covered under their parents’ plan.
Vincent Miller, who holds the Gudorf Chair in Catholic Theology and Culture in the religious studies department, said only 9 percent of the graduate assistants are under 26, meaning most are ineligible for parental coverage.
Miller said the only viable option for some GAs may be Medicaid.
McNeish said another reason given for the coverage restriction was the GA turnover rate.
“It was mentioned at the Academic Senate meeting that our grad students are only here for a couple years, so we don’t need family coverage for them,” she said.
McNeish, who is in a combined graduate program, said this assumption is mostly challenged by doctoral candidates.
“If you’re here for a masters and Ph. D. like me, you’re here for seven years. That’s enough time to think about a family,” she said.
GAs in the religious studies department, about 20 people in all, responded to the policy change by collectively authoring a letter expressing disagreement with the coverage restriction. The letter said the new policy fails to recognize the centrality of family and community growth to UD’s Catholic, Marianist tradition.
Emily McGowin, a fifth year religious studies doctoral candidate, said the policy change may adversely affect the university’s ability to attract female and family-ready candidates to its programs.
A fourth year religious studies doctoral candidate said that, while the new policy will not affect him, had it been implemented any earlier he would have needed to reconsider starting a family.
Katherine Schmidt, another fourth year candidate, said the Catholic identity of the university requires us to consider these policies beyond their current implications.
“We think the Marianist mission stands for taking care of not only the people of the community of now, but also the people who will be a part of that community in the future,” Schmidt said.
According to the UD Fact Book for Fall 2013, the university employs 292 Graduate Assistants.
For more information about the GA program, visit www.udayton.edu/ministry/about/ga_program/index.php.