Yale’s endowment grows, dental insurance woes

This month’s announcement of Yale’s increase in financial aid to undergraduate students underscored the need to open the university to students from all economic backgrounds. Unfortunately, the timing of Yale’s announcement trailing behind an almost identical announcement from Harvard also highlighted the degree to which Yale sometimes lags its peer institutions. Few question the importance of making a Yale education affordable to all students. Sticking to the theme of equal opportunity to people of all economic backgrounds, this year’s presidential campaign has also highlighted the need for affordable health care for all Americans.

So what do Harvard, Princeton, Penn, Cornell, Brown, Columbia, Duke, U Chicago, Caltech, Johns Hopkins and UC Berkeley all have in common with regard to the affordability of education and availability of quality health care? Unlike Yale, each offers the option for students to purchase dental insurance. Meanwhile at Yale, post-docs, faculty and staff making up to $54,000 per year are given the chance to spend between zero and $24 per month, depending on their position, for a dental insurance plan that costs a total of $41.58 per month. Employees making over $54,000 per year pay progressively higher rates for the same care, but students are not even given any opportunity to buy into the plan.

By denying students the right to purchase dental insurance, Yale is certainly not leading the pack. To do so, it would need to match UC Berkeley, which includes dental care at no additional cost in its standard Student Health Insurance Program. Offering students the opportunity to purchase dental insurance for the employee price of $24 per month would make a Yale student dental plan more expensive than any of the schools listed above, which average $16 per month.

A lack of affordable dental care extends far beyond the Yale campus. An October 2007 article in The New York Times tackled the issue, detailing the depth of the problem. There are more than 100 million American who lack dental insurance, and a roughly equal number are without access to dental care. The most recent data available from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that 29 percent of adult Americans have untreated cavities and only 27 percent of adults without dental insurance saw a dentist in 2004. For those Americans fortunate enough to receive dental care, they are now met with an average bill of $600 for the year and often much larger than that.

As the University gauges how best to provide an affordable education and adequate health care to its student population, it should pay close attention to the lack of dental care for students. A lack of dental insurance for students places Yale at a competitive disadvantage when recruiting students compared to its peer institutions. The problem is especially pronounced for graduate students who are more often than not too old to utilize their parents’ dental insurance — if their parents are privileged enough to even have such insurance. Even if the University were to pick up the full cost of the employees dental plan for all students, it would only total about $500 per year per student — a small sum compared to the tuition bill that students see every semester.

While Yale is increasing its endowment spending for financial aid, it should consider its full health care offerings for students. This is a unique opportunity in Yale’s history to place it at the forefront of health care availability and affordability for all.

Bryan Woods is a third-year Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Geology & Geophysics. He is also a member of the Graduate & Professional Student Senate and the Graduate Student Assembly.