Wednesday, June 15, 2011

GA Health Care

Folks from various IEA unions on campus protested in support of the GAU (Graduate Assistants  United) negotiating team, which is trying to secure better health insurance for GAs on campus.  The Southern has a brief story on the protest;  WPSD (channel 6) did a pretty full story on the protest which was quite good until the terribly confused last 30 seconds.  During this period they managed to misrepresent outside options available to GAs--many of whom, of course, are too old, even with the new federal age limit of 26, to enroll under their parents' plan, assuming their parents have good health insurance.  Channel 6 was also utterly confused about the status of negotiations: the GAs, like the rest of us, are negotiating for a successor contract to replace one which has expired--although in their case there have been no 'imposed terms', I believe, so their prior contract is still valid. And the university response to channel 6, that SIUC can't offer GAs the same health care it offers full time employees, is bogus; SIUC can offer the GAs whatever coverage they want, and the GAU isn't demanding equality with full-time employees: they are asking for coverage as good as that students get at peer universities.

Protesters on Tuesday, June 14
More details after the break.

Apparently our GAs get rather worse coverage than those at SIUE. Indeed, GAs here lack many of the protections the federal government will soon guarantee for all Americans in health care plans (including pre-existing conditions), but as SIUC is among the 1% of universities to opt for a "self-insured" approach, it escapes federal or state regulation, and won't have to improve the status of health insurance here unless it agrees to do so, presumably at the bargaining table.

Kristi Brownfield, GAU VP for communications and SIUC Unions United webmaster extraordinaire, provides fuller coverage over on the United website.  She includes a link to an excel spreadsheet comparing the SIUC plan with those for GAs at peer institutions; the sheet makes it clear that SIUC is one of the few Illinois public universities to offer no option (even at a considerable extra fee) for spouses, children, or domestic partners, or to offer no prescription drug coverage (SIUC students must pay "cost" for drugs, which can mean a massive expense for those who require prescription drugs to meet chronic conditions).

One of the more interesting wrinkles in this story were tales of GAs from foreign countries who return home to their home countries--India and Honduras were the two mentioned--as they can better afford healthcare there as citizens than they can as student employees in the US, "the richest nation in the world".  When such students return home (at considerable expense, of course), they must leave behind their classes (both those they take and those they teach) and thus disrupt their own education and those of their students. This is the sort of unintended expense we end up with by trying to go cheap on health care.

Graduate students don't expect to make much money teaching in graduate school. But they aren't healthy young kids who can get by with scanty student insurance as they are covered by their parents' plans if something goes wrong (of course many of our undergraduates also don't fit this "traditional" student model, but that's another issue).  Our GAs are young adults with positions of considerable responsibility: this university couldn't function without them. They deserve health care decent enough to allow them to function and to free them from the worry that any major illness will leave them permanently impoverished.

1 comment:

  1. This is a really great write-up of all the problems in the plan, Dave. Thanks for the coverage and the support!


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