After several years the of lobbying for dental coverage, graduate students will still have to wait for University-provided insurance.
Administrators delayed approving a new dental insurance plan for graduate students Wednesday, disappointing members of the Graduate and Professional Student Senate who had hoped the plan would pass. In the wake of budget cuts, administrators questioned whether student interest would be high enough to justify the cost. But graduate students said there is enough support for the plan, which has been in development for a year. Next, GPSS student advocate Emily Stoops GRD ’13 said, the organization will collect data about student interest and try to garner more support for the proposal.
“[Administrators] are still enthusiastic about it, and we are still enthusiastic about it,” Stoops said, adding that she expects to meet with administrators in the next month to reevaluate the plan. “But there are concerns about the administrative costs associated with setting this up, especially in a time of economic crisis.”
The proposed dental plan, which would run about $300 a year for most students, would cover annual cleanings and a portion of emergency procedures such as fillings and root canals, Stoops said. Graduate students’ spouses and children may also enroll in the plan. Students would be automatically enrolled unless they chose to opt-out — a system similar to Yale’s health insurance plan.
Yale and Dartmouth are the only two Ivy League schools that do not offer dental insurance to graduate students, former GPSS president Bryan Woods said in February.
Administrators said they need GPSS to demonstrate high enough levels of student interest to justify the investment before they reconsider the plan, Stoops said. Deputy Provost J. Lloyd Suttle, who met with the students on Tuesday, declined to comment.
Graduate School Dean Jon Butler said Wednesday that low student enrollment has long been an obstacle to dental insurance plans for graduate students. Graduate students first had the option to enroll in a dental plan through Yale in 2002. But the insurance company involved withdrew due to a lack of student interest, Butler told the News in February.
“The problem has always been whether we have a sufficient subscriber base,” Butler said Tuesday. “Students who perceive themselves as not needing dental insurance don’t sign up for it. It’s not like health insurance.”
At Tuesday’s meeting, Stoops said, Suttle presented the GPSS representatives with findings from a meeting last month, in which representatives from several departments, including University Health Services, Students Financial and Administrative Services, and Compensation and Benefits, met to discuss their departments’ involvement in the implementation of a dental plan for graduate students.
“At the meeting we discussed an available plan,” University Health Services Director Paul Genecin told the News. “But it was not a good deal for the students.”
Still, Stoops said student interest in a new dental reimbursement fund, created by GPSS last spring as a substitute for dental insurance,, is also proof of strong student interest in dental care.
The Dental Expenses Fund, which draws $7,500 per year from GPSS’s general budget, reimburses select uninsured students to defray the cost of dental care, GPSS Public Relations Chair Zach Pursley ’10. Students must apply to the fund during one of three funding cycles after they have undergone a dental procedure. A committee of GPSS members makes the final decisions on who will be reimbursed.
In the last funding cycle alone, which covered expenses incurred between February and October of 2009, 106 students — or 2 percent of the graduate and professional student population — requested assistance. Fewer than one third received funding. More than 300 students have applied for funding since the program began.
Stoops said she is confident graduate student enrollment in the program will surpass the 10 percent benchmark, which she said is the standard enrollment rate for Yale’s peer institutions.
“We stayed outside GPSCY [Graduate and Professional Student Center at Yale] one night and talked to 600 to 800 people or more waiting outside in September,” Stoops said.
All told, between the GPSCY survey, conversations with students at the graduate activities fair and applicants for the dental fund, Stoops said she thinks they have reached 1,000 students, of which 75 percent were interested.
While 14 of 21 graduate students interviewed said they were uninsured, 14 said they would be interested in buying insurance through Yale. Those 14 said they would only buy it if it was cost-effective compared to other plans on the market.
Katherine Shinopoulos GRD ’12 said she applied to the fund for $500, following a $3,000 emergency root canal after she was injured playing basketball. Because her procedure was an emergency, Shinopoulos said, she expected to receive the full $500, but the committee only gave her $100.
“I don’t know anybody who has dental insurance who isn’t on their parents’ insurance,” said Shinopoulos, who had dental coverage through her parents’ plan until last fall, when her eligibility lapsed .
GPSS will continue to administer the Dental Expense Fund, Stoops said. But though student demand for assistance is high, she said, GPSS does not plan to increase the size of the fund any time soon.
“Our budget was cut this year,” Stoops said. “We’re still dealing with that issue.”