Health care 101 – Doctoral students stuck in health bind

Infographic by Travis Taylor | Lariat Photo Editor
Infographic by Travis Taylor | Lariat Photo Editor
By Jordan Corona

Some doctoral students may find themselves in a precarious position with the health care law.

Under the Affordable Care Act, people can receive health coverage from their parents’ plans until they turn 26.

“Most graduate students fall in that age range of 23-30,” said doctoral candidate Christopher Bissex, president of the Graduate Student Association. “They’re over 25, married and working and receiving a small stipend.”

The BlueCross BlueShield of Texas Student Health Insurance Plan is just one of 71 available to Marketplace users in McLennan County.

Bissex said graduate students prefer the plan for its provisions toward dependents.

“The assumption behind the Affordable Care Act is that if you’re over 25, you should be able to buy your health care,” Bissex said.
Doctoral students who teach at least six credit hours in a full year, teachers of record, qualify for a special discount on the university student health insurance plan.

Teachers of record and research students who are properly funded externally can receive those benefits, and pay an annual $200 premium.

An enhanced subsidy is available to help cover up to 50 percent of cost to insure dependents.

Brita Andercheck, chair of the Graduate Student Association’s policy committee, said there are populations of doctoral students who would not qualify to receive that discount.

“For a lot of us, publications are very important not just to get a job, but to build a reputation,” she said. “You could opt out of teaching and spend some time doing that research. But you’ll see that means also giving up health care coverage.”

She said for many it’s not an easy decision to make.

Andercheck said the coverage available only to teachers of record is further limited by the department’s specific need. Who gets help with their health care is influenced by whether or not their department even has classes for them to teach.

“We need departments to give doctoral students chances to teach,” said Dr. Chris Rios, assistant dean for graduate studies.

Rios has been looking into how other academic institutions, similar to Baylor, address health insurance coverage for their graduate students.

“The conversation that’s going on right now is ‘how does Baylor compare?’” Rios said. “What we’ve come to learn is Baylor compares quite favorably.”

Over the last five years, Rios said the university’s made major improvements in dealing with the issue.

He said getting benefits for teachers of record is pretty recent. But exactly what effect the Affordable Care Act will have is yet to be seen.

“Ideally, GSA would like to see the discount become available to more people,” Bissex said.

The new health insurance law means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Young adults, students especially, have some weighty decisions to make.