Yale is falling short in its efforts to provide sufficient health care to its graduate and professional students.

As chair of the Graduate and Professional Student Senate Advocacy Committee, one of my responsibilities is to improve health care policy for our constituents. I’ve heard a stunning variety of complaints about the dental care available at Yale. Many relate to cost. Some begrudge Delta Dental’s customer service (or apparent lack thereof). International students mention that to fly to another continent, have wisdom teeth removed, visit family and return costs less than the same procedure here.

My favorite comment from a recent survey?

“My last trip to the dentist had to be a birthday present from my parents :(”

Despite the historical divide between medicine and dentistry, oral care is now understood to be a fundamental part of our health. Yet, the only plan graduate and professional students can access right now costs $224 per year and covers only cleanings, exams and fillings, the last of which only after you’ve had the plan for a year. If you were to wait twelve months for a filling, you won’t need one anymore. You’ll need a root canal. Congratulations.

Why can’t an institution with Yale’s prestige provide a better option? Are there no resources that go into this? Who negotiates that dental plan?

I do. I study biochemistry. If my program prepares me to negotiate with insurance companies and manage the helpdesk for the dental health care option for 7000 people, I have yet to hear about it.

Here’s the background. After significant research, the Senate and the Graduate Student Assembly independently established a dental plan for graduate and professional students with Delta Dental in 2010. That plan was cheaper than the current one, and for two years provided filling coverage with no wait period. Every year since 2013 has seen an increase in premiums and a reduction in benefits. In that sense, we were lucky to secure a $0 increase in the plan premium this year. Yet, if you review the history of this project, you will find that two full-time graduate students have serious limitations in their capacity as part-time, volunteer procurement officers.

I, along with my counterpart in the GSA, sat down with Delta Dental in July to negotiate the terms of the 2017-18 plan. Eliminating the twelve-month waiting period was an obvious goal, but we came to that table with limited data and no collateral. Yale doesn’t subsidize the plan in any way. Had this been a gunfight, even our knife was left at home.

Data from the Senate’s annual survey clearly tells us that students are unwilling to pay higher premiums. I am gracious for the staff at Yale Health who have helped us evaluate the cost savings of switching to an opt-out model (very little money saved, very angry constituents; nonstarter) and research options with other insurance companies (insuring us isn’t particularly profitable; thus, no company has made an offer). Gracious, yes. I am also disappointed.

Viewed in this light, we are left with one clear direction forward: We need the administration to adopt a proactive attitude toward this issue and commit human and financial resources towards solving it. Yale already employs talented staff to handle these types of problems, and commits significant resources to many health and wellness initiatives. It is time to include dental in that portfolio.

I anticipate that we will be asked to research our peer institutions further or that we will be reassured that the existing system works. That research has been done; it has yet to bear fruit. The current system is inherently flawed in that it depends upon two graduate students who are untrained in a complex industry and who rotate out of their positions every one to two years. The administrative support given to us five years ago was a start, but does not make up for these facts.

Permit me a metaphor: I’m the pilot of your Boeing 737, getting on the intercom to say, “We’ve reached 35,000 feet and, by the way, I’m an architect. Somebody asked me to fly this thing and I’m doing the best I can.”

You deserve your dental health care to be taken seriously by your institution and for it to be handled by trained professionals.

If you find this absurd, send the senate an email at advocate.yale@gmail.com and we will bring your comments to the Provost. Your input only strengthens a case that already speaks for itself.

Edward Courchaine is the Chair of the Graduate and Professional Student Senate Advocacy Committee and a PhD candidate in the Department of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry. Contact him at edward.courchaine@yale.edu .

Edward chairs the Advocacy Committee of the Graduate and Professional Student Senate and is a 4th year PhD student in Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry.