Discrimination Against Graduate Students With Families

There is now an update, here.

 

According to a letter we received this spring, our health insurance through my husband’s job at the University of Connecticut will change on August 15th. I think. No one seems able to tell me for sure if that is the correct date. The following post came out of my failed attempt today to find out whether we will still have insurance after that date, while they are “adding dependents” to my husband’s plan, which will automatically switch. The website they set up is under construction. There is almost no information about dependents. Over and over, I came across evidence that the university is simply happy to discriminate against graduate students with dependents.
UConn discriminates against graduate students with families.
Meanwhile: my medicaid (and Nathan’s) ended at the end of July, along with our Food Stamps, because of a paperwork error. Walt still has Medicaid and WIC, but not Food Stamps. I spent all day yesterday, including an hour on hold (I checked the time–53 minutes) and a long conversation with a cruel and rude call center employee, trying to fix it. In the end, I sent a twenty-six-page fax, and I won’t even know if they got my fax until next week. At least children under one are automatically covered, and I know that Walt’s checkup at the end of August will be covered. I am working really hard at this and still falling short.

And I just keep thinking–What do families do if the adults do not have long breaks at work to make these calls during business hours? 

Back to the topic at hand. My husband’s official title at the University of Connecticut is “Graduate Assistant.” The idea is that, in exchange for the time he spends teaching (A LOT), he receives his education and earns a PhD in Philosophy. I would love to see how much his education costs the university compared to how much they pay him, taking into account the fact that graduate students’ teaching allows them to avoid paying people who already have degrees. Graduate students teach dozens, if not hundreds, of classes, labs and discussion sections. All of their professors also teach undergraduate courses. What are they actually costing the university? The only real numbers I have relate to our health insurance. It’s changing, and the brochure we received about the change includes a breakdown of what the university is paying vs. what the student pays. My jaw hit the floor when I saw the huge cost we are responsible for, because there are three of us.

I wrote this letter to the president of the university today, Susan Herbst, just to give my rage some outlet, and I’m sharing it, here, so that others know that the University of Connecticut discriminates against students with spouses, partners and children by asking them to pay an exponential greater percentage of the cost of a health care plan. I’m not totally sure I chose the right numbers for the math, but I’m very close. If I go over it again, I’ll just cry.

 

Dear Dr. Herbst,
Soon, University of Connecticut Graduate Assistants will be forced into a change in health care benefits. After examining the costs and benefits, I have realized that our family, should we choose a plan that includes dependents, will be paying a disproportionate amount of a graduate assistant’s income in order to have health insurance compared to a graduate assistant without dependents. As it stands, our family of three qualifies for Husky, SNAP and WIC, because my husband makes so little income. This change in insurance adds insult to injury by increasing our health care costs exponentially simply because we are married and have a nine-month-old child. The choice we face is to change our care providers to those within the small network allowed by Husky or to pay the difference in cost UConn is not willing to absorb.

A single graduate assistant would be paying only $200 for an entire year of health care worth, according to the brochure from human resources, $3,988. That’s about 5% of the cost of the annual plan.

A family of three must pay $1,622 for a plan worth $8,368. That is about 45$ of the cost of the annual plan. We must pay an additional $250 deductible for seeing an off-campus doctor and, unless UConn has hired a pediatrician recently, anyone with 2+ dependents would need to do that. Because the therapist and psychiatrist I depend on for mental health care are not inside the new Cigna network, we will have to pay an additional $500 deductible for out-of-network coverage or change providers, a transition that is not at all good for my mental health. By the way, we already paid Anthem Blue Cross/Blue Shield a $500 deductible for the privilege of seeing out-of-network care providers this year.

Tell me: Is the assumption that a family of three must have two incomes? If so, how do you justify making such an assumption in a state and country where childcare costs so much and family leave is so rare?

I can only conclude that the University of Connecticut is knowingly practicing discrimination against its graduate students with dependents. Why should a marriage or parenthood force a student to live in poverty? I am disgusted by this practice. We are going to be living under the poverty line and incurring extra expenses simply because your university does not treat its graduate assistants with the same respect other employees receive. In addition to paying them salaries that hardly qualify as a living wage, your university asks for a significant amount of that money back in exchange for providing average-quality health care coverage. I hope that this practice changes in the future. For now, all I can do is write this letter and continue to beg the state of Connecticut for help, until my husband can finish his degree and obtain a position that pays a living wage.

Sincerely,

Anne-Marie Lindsey

5 Comments

  1. dellaquella said:

    My memory from grad school is we were treated as students when it was cheaper for the university and as employees when it was cheaper for the university. What was in the best interest of the graduate students did not seem to be near the top of the agenda. I’d never thought about how that would matter for those graduate students with families. Good luck as you sort this all out. Good for you for valuing your mental health and for digging in to look for answers.

    August 7, 2013
    Reply
    • Anne-Marie said:

      That is an excellent way to put it! Students or employees whenever it’s cheaper. That’s pretty much it.

      I once had no mental health care coverage at all, when I was a grad student, and it was a nightmare. My mother had to pay my rent so that I could keep buying meds. That program provided no health care except for access at one clinic, and that place was not about to prescribe benzos. I will not do it again. I will never be without health insurance again! *Shakes fist at sky, Scarlett O’Hara style*

      August 8, 2013
      Reply
  2. Jay said:

    I’m sorry you are struggling but really this is how it is with most jobs across the country. My husband, a public school teacher and I have 3 elementary school age children. When they were little I stayed home to care for them and we were all on my husbands health plan. He works in a non union right to work state and his benefits are horrible – we had to pay over $600 a month for the coverage and then everytime we had to go to the Dr we were charged a $35 copay – if we used urgent care, ambulance or hospital services (which we did) we had to pay a deductable. When I finally when back to work and qualified for benefits we switched the kids to my plan – we still have to pay extra for them but overall end up saving a big chunk of money each month. My point is you always have to pay extra for your dependents. Also with the way things are going economically in this country don’t expect things to change anytime soon. I have known plenty of people who worked over the years (mostly single moms) who were working full time jobs and still qualified for WIC and medicaid.

    August 22, 2013
    Reply
  3. Anne-Marie said:

    I understand that our situation is not unique, and that’s why I write about it. Whatever you think of the President, this is enough of an issue for him to keep repeating “No one working full time should be struggling to make ends meet.” I do not accept the status quo and will speak against it.

    August 23, 2013
    Reply

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