Chancellor Victor Boschini made the announcement to students at the Graduate Forum on Friday. He said the addition to the Student Health Plan, which costs roughly $2,000, will be activated this fall.
Approximately 300 assistantship or fellowship grad students qualify for this benefit, Dean of Graduate Studies Bonnie Melhart said.
Assistants are students paid to help teach classes with a professor or conduct research. Fellowship students are paid for their full-time studies without research and teaching duties.
“We’ve had students who were not taking insurance, and that is very disturbing,” Melhart said.
The cost of health insurance was a concern graduate students raised at previous forums, Melhart said. Some students, she said, have been paying for their insurance out of pocket or weren’t buying it at all.
Melhart said she hopes these students sign up for insurance now that it’s less expensive.
Jackie Hoermann, president of the Graduate Student Senate (GSS), said health insurance has been on her platform since she started running for office last year. She said she’d heard several testimonies from students who couldn’t afford to go to doctors or had to pay for surgeries themselves because they weren’t insured.
Hoermann said taking care of physical and mental health is critical since “people can’t perform at their best when they’re not feeling their best.”
Many students, she said, have dropped out of school because they couldn’t afford both their studies and healthcare needs. She said it can be especially difficult for non-traditional students who have to support their families.
Hoermann also said she thinks the insurance bonus is a great first step in spreading awareness about the needs of graduate students.
Jay Jay Stroup, vice president of GSS, talked about the importance of communication between the GSS and their constituents.
Stroup said the senate made an official email account this year so it can bypass faculty members and converse with students directly about changes the students want. She said the GSS has already received positive feedback about the insurance announcement.
Stroup, a long-time advocate for health care benefits, encourages students to voice their needs to the senate so they can be addressed.
“More graduates need to consistently ask for benefits and things that we want,” she said. “Eventually, change will come.”