Last week, University of Chicago students received an email alerting us to some dramatic increases in our health insurance deductibles on the U-SHIP plan for the coming year: from $200 to $500 for in-network providers, and from $500 to $1,000 for out-of-network providers. This means that all of us on U-SHIP insurance will have to pay at least $500 out of our own pockets for health services before our insurance plan starts to kick in.
The email assured us, “This change was necessary in order to comply with revised state and federal insurance requirements,” adding, “Our priority in our negotiations with our insurance provider was to keep the impact on average costs as low as possible.”
Average costs for whom? For Ph.D. students whose health insurance premiums are covered by the university as part of their fellowship packages, a higher deductible simply means less insurance. It diminishes the value of our fellowships by making healthcare more expensive for us than it was before. Last year, a student with a medical condition was expected to pay the first $200 of her treatment costs. This year, she’ll find herself paying the first $500 of those costs, making her $300 poorer. For anyone who needs medical treatment, the larger deductible amounts to a $300 pay cut.
The announcement comes very suddenly, about a month before the start of the academic year. What are we to make of it? One GSU member (alias Lil’ Sparrow) writes the following: “This is what precarization of labor looks like to me.” She points to the recent abrupt cancellation of healthcare coverage for University of Missouri graduate employees (which was thankfully rescinded after a massive outcry and the threat of a strike) and notes,
In my opinion, even though the situation at MU is clearly worse, there are some underlying tendencies common to the way universities make these decisions and what their effects are for graduate student employees. Both MU and U of C have presented these as necessary measures made while keeping students interests as a priority; however, the fact that neither MU or UChicago allowed grad students a say on the matter points in the opposite direction; the assumption is that grad students are not workers and can and should assume these costs without putting up a fight.
The lack of recognition of students as workers is of course at the heart of the issue. when it comes to health care the precarization of student life becomes even more salient as other employees within the university benefit from many of the health costs that as grad students we have to absorb. If we combine the increase in the Student Life Fee w/ the recent hike in the U-SHIP deductible, we are left with a situation that is definitely worth fighting against.