The student assembly of the School of Medicine met with administrators on Monday to advocate for free health insurance for the families of medical-student parents, a benefit currently available only to student parents in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.
The new lobbying effort orchestrated by the Medical Student Council kicked off during a period of renewed debate over the challenges faced by student parents at the University’s 13 graduate and professional schools. Last month, the two student assemblies representing all graduate and professional school students, the Graduate and Professional School Student Senate and the Graduate Student Association, presented fresh data on the inaccessibility of day care at Yale to Graduate School Dean Lynn Cooley as part of an ongoing campaign to secure child care subsidies for student parents at the University.
But the Monday meeting at the medical school, which has a long-standing reputation as a male-centric institution unsympathetic to the concerns of women and families, was organized independently of the broader campaign and focused on health insurance rather than child care. The officers of the MSC, who did not respond to numerous requests for comment, met with Associate Dean for Curriculum Michael Schwartz, Associate Dean for Student Affairs Nancy Angoff and Deputy Dean for Education Richard Belitsky to present data showing that the children of six of the 12 medical-student parents are on Medicaid and that four of those six parents also use the program themselves. The data was collected over the last two weeks through a short survey circulated among medical-student parents.
“The deans were very receptive,” said Ian McConnell MED ’17, the medical-student parent who distributed the survey. “They were a bit surprised to see the extent to which med students have had to resort to Medicaid.” McConnell, who does not belong to the MSC, declined to reveal the precise number of medical-student parents who are on Medicaid.
Schwartz said the presentation “provided important background and perspective” on the lives of medical-student parents and that administrators plan to further evaluate the issue over the coming months.
“Both the student leadership and we are now in the process of looking into the issues presented to determine how best to address these issues,” he said.
The provision of free health insurance to medical-student families would bring the medical school in line with the graduate school, which offers the free health care benefit to student parents enrolled on the Yale Health plan. Under the current system, medical students in the joint M.D.-Ph.D. program, about 10 percent of the medical school population, are eligible for the free health insurance benefit. But medical-student parents who are not affiliated with the graduate school must take on more than $13,000 in annual costs in order to cover their families through Yale Health. None of the 12 medical-student parents surveyed are currently on the University plan.
The University-wide push for health insurance benefits and child care subsidies has focused partly on securing comprehensive data detailing the financial struggles of student parents — information that many of the schools do not keep in their official records. The medical school, for example, does not collect data on the number of student parents enrolled. McConnell said he reached out to friends and acquaintances in each class year in order to identify the dozen medical-student parents who filled out his survey. But the administrators running the M.D.-Ph.D. program do keep track of the number of student parents enrolled: Five M.D.-Ph.D. students, about 7 percent of the overall M.D.-Ph.D. population, have children, and four of them are signed up for free health care through Yale Health.
Still, McConnell said, “there definitely does seem to be a lack of hard data around there.”
McConnell, whose family is on Medicaid, added that he sees improved health insurance options for medical-student parents as a first step toward broader gains, such as child care funding.
The majority of medical students interviewed said they are confident that the medical school will eventually match the health fellowship offered to graduate student families. But it remains unclear how long that process will take, given the budgetary priorities of the medical school and the relatively small number of medical-student parents.
It took the graduate school more than three years of research and negotiation before it began offering free health insurance to the families of student parents in 2005, according to former Graduate School Dean Jon Butler, who helped engineer the move toward free health insurance.
“It’s a good-faith effort on the part of a university to furnish as much help to graduate students as is possible,” Butler said. “We attracted graduate students because of that.” Neither Princeton nor Harvard offers free health insurance to the families of graduate-student parents.
Wendy Xiao MED ’17 — who chairs the Facilities and Health Care committee of the GSA and has led the charge for child care subsidies for graduate-student parents — said the fledgling movement at the medical school will require significant planning and research.
According to three medical students interviewed, the medical school also has a culture of financial privilege and single-minded academic rigor that can make it an especially difficult place to work for young parents.
“There is a stigma against HUSKY in the medical school community,” said Abiola Femi-Abodunde MED ’17, referring to a government-subsidized health insurance program run by the State of Connecticut.
One medical-student parent, who asked to remain anonymous to speak candidly about personal experiences, said the medical school community is unwelcoming to students from low-income backgrounds.
“I’ve had Yale faculty and residents, even fairly young residents, react with disapproval when they learned that I came from a poor family background,” the student said. “And I’ve had negative reactions from a few who I originally thought were progressive when I told them I was on Medicaid.”
McConnell said he does not believe there is a stigma against Medicaid at the School. He added, however, that he suspects many of his peers would be surprised to find out that a significant portion of medical-student parents use the program.
The medical school is the largest professional school at Yale.