Last fall, the student council successfully negotiated Aetna student health insurance to agree beginning next fall for approximately 270 to 320 low-income students at the University. This huge achievement came after years of advocacy by Political Latinxs United for Movement and Action, and will bring relief to many low-income students across Grounds. While this is an important step, the fact that these negotiations even had to take place calls for further examination and deeper soul-searching. In addition, these negotiations only resulted in a four-year trial period of the program, which means that future low-income students are not insured by this new policy. The University must ensure that low-income students for generations to come are protected and insured – no student should have to worry about how they will pay for their health insurance or medical expenses.
It is important to first recognize the achievements and implications of this new grant. This is a momentous feat of student-led governance and has positive implications for the many low-income students who can rely on various forms of need-based aid to pay their tuition fees. As a result, they may also have struggled to pay for health insurance – which often costs up to $13,000 over four years – as required by University policy. It is also important to understand the scope of the new grant. The grant began with a resolution offers at a student council meeting in fall 2021, which asked the University to approve $1.5 million per year to cover health insurance costs under Aetna Student Health for eligible in-state and out-of-state students. The University accepted a health insurance grant of $1 million per year.
Despite all the positives, health care may continue to be out of reach for many low-income students. It is inexcusable that thousands of low-income former students have had to go into debt of $13,000 or more due to their inability to obtain insurance. There is also the question of accessibility to this care for current students. In Charlottesville, students have the opportunity to visit the Student Health Building for various free health services. However, many students – especially overseas and international students – may continue to struggle to afford insurance when seeking care outside of Charlottesville. Likewise, the Assurance acts more like a discount plan on services such as eye and dental care, but does not replace other medical insurance plans such as state Medicaid or private insurance plans.
As a low-income student myself who is fortunate enough to attend University on a full scholarship that includes a health insurance plan, I know that the struggle to pay for medical visits is not just about having a Health Insurance. I have Aetna student health insurance, but the $350 annual deductible prevented me from using my insurance outside of Grounds – something I didn’t have to worry about on my government-issued insurance , which I could only use in my home country. Under my state Medicaid program, I may not have had multiple providers to choose from, but my doctor visits and prescriptions often happened at a Cost of $0. Below Etna, I pay expensive medical visits for the first time. Many low-income University students have taken jobs just to pay tuition, and while they may not have to worry about the initial cost of insurance, the added costs of care can still be expensive.
The reality is that access to health care remains a fence not only to students, but to people across the country. Low-income people are the most vulnerable to disease, especially for chronic diseases that continue to overwhelm health systems worldwide. Most of these diseases are preventablebut with on 30 million uninsured Americans do not have access to annual exams – which can provide early detection and save lives – our current system is unfair. Moreover, not everyone is eligible for state insurance or has a job who provides health care. These barriers, along with medical costs — which are only rising year after year – often deter uninsured Americans from seeing a doctor.
It is incomprehensible that in the midst of a global pandemic we are still discuss whether or not accessibility to health care is a human right. Despite one’s political leanings, it’s fundamentally unethical to believe that one has to work, achieve, or succeed in order to be healthy. With the vast knowledge of medical science that exists, there is no reason why only a select group of upper-class citizens should be allowed access to sometimes vital resources and services.
While it is unreasonable to expect the University to solve the national health care crisis, it should not have taken a pandemic for the University to recognize and prioritize the health of some of its students. more vulnerable. However, the University can do its part to ensure that its past and present students are not burdened with the inaccessibility of health care by canceling past insurance loans for low-income former students, working with those struggling to pay medical bills and committing to more than a four-year trial of the Medicare subsidy. No student – especially those struggling to pay tuition or pay off student debt – should be forced to put their health at risk.
Yssis Cano-Santiago is an opinion columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at [email protected]
The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Cavalier Daily. The columns represent the opinions of the authors only.