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Healthcare hurdles: Insurance premiums decrease in price, Athens community responds

17 Jan, 2019

Health insurance rates tripled in cost for spouses of University of Georgia graduate students at the beginning of the semester, resulting in push back from professors, graduate students and spouses. After this community outcry, USG decreased the 2018-2019 price by nearly $2,000.

A town hall was organized by UGA on Aug. 23, hosting representatives from USG to discuss the topic with those concerned about the price increase implemented at the beginning of the semester. 

Insurance rates for spouses of graduate students were set at $7,629 for this school year, a 338 percent increase compared to the 2017-2018 price. The price for the year is now $5,645 after the decrease, according to USG.

“The decrease in health insurance premiums was made due to the concerns raised by UGA graduate students with dependents,” said Annette Ogletree-McDougal, executive director of communications for USG Board of Regents. 

No other USG institution or university has scheduled a town hall, Ogletree-McDougal said, but the price decrease was implemented at all 26 USG colleges and universities. 

“It’s a step in the right direction, but I think they’re picking on this one small group of dependents,” said Mike Lord, the spouse of a graduate student at UGA who was affected by the original price increase. 

Dependents, which are spouses and children, make up 7 percent of those enrolled in USG-provided health insurance and were the only ones with increased prices. Graduate students’ prices were not altered.

Lord was on UGA’s health insurance from January to --July 2018 until his wife received the message sent in July — a month before Lord’s coverage ended — that the prices for dependents would increase. 

At the time, he decided not to renew his health insurance with UGA because it would have cost him an extra few hundred dollars per month. 

“This is not only just out of the blue, but we don’t have an extra $5,000 in our budget, particularly because one of us is a grad student,” Lord said in an August Red & Black article. 

Another factor considered by USG in lowering the price was a lack of time to plan for increased rates, said Karin Elliot, interim vice chancellor of human resources for USG.

An alternative to enrolling in UGA insurance, insurance options are listed on the marketplace, a resource where people can compare health insurance prices and enroll in a plan. The marketplace’s open enrollment period for 2018 ended in December 2017. The 2019 open enrollment period is from Nov. 1 to Dec. 15. 

Aside from the town hall, the Athens and UGA community members responded by organizing a protest of about 50 people at the Arch on Sept. 7, as many were not satisfied with the reduced rate.

The crowd chanted “Healthcare is a human right,” and “UGA no rate strike,” holding signs that read: “Well-being is a right, not a privilege” and “The race to the bottom may not end well.”

“I think they thought they were doing the right thing by minimizing the damages,” said Cindy Hahamovitch, a professor in the history department  who attended the protest. “I like to think they thought they were doing the right thing, but I don’t think they understand how a university works and how dependent we all are on each other.” 

Passing cars beeped as Benjamin Britton, an assistant professor of art at the University of Georgia, held a sign up during the Rally for Grad Student Healthcare on Friday, Sept. 7, 2018, at the Arch in Athens, Georgia. The rally was held to protest the health insurance premium rise that affected spouses of graduate students at the UGA.

Aside from the recent decrease in price, the deadline to enroll in student health insurance through UGA was extended to Sept. 15, and those who already paid the annual premium price in a lump-sum will be refunded the difference, according to an email sent to students on Aug. 30. 

Negotiations with UnitedHealthcare StudentResources, an insurance company that specializes in providing students health insurance, for the 2019-2020 school year will “most likely” begin in October or November, Elliot said. USG will begin looking at the data in depth in January 2019 to reach prices for the following year.

“The increased trends will most likely continue into next year,” Elliot said. 

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