Kristina Kim

When Mustafa Yavas GRD ’19 broke his tooth the week before spring break, he did not seek out care provided by the optional Yale Graduate & Professional Schools Dental & Eye Care Programs. He considered it unaffordable, so, instead, he waited until returning to Turkey, his home country, to get the required dental care.

“I feel weirdly lucky that my tooth got broken right before I went to Turkey, my home country, for fieldwork,” Yavas said. “I really don’t know what I would have done if it happened, say, one month ago.”

Stories like Yavas’ are not uncommon among graduate and professional students, many of whom are unhappy with the University’s dental coverage, according to Edward Courchaine GRD ’20, the chair of the Senate Advocacy Committee. Student concerns stem from the plan’s $224.04 annual premium and limited coverage. The plan, contracted with Delta Dental — a dental benefits provider that services schools like Brown University and the California Institute of Technology — and negotiated by graduate students, is primarily preventative and diagnostic. It includes a single benefit that falls under the basic procedures category — fillings — and the benefit is accessible only after a 12-month waiting period.

In recent months, the Graduate Student Assembly and the Graduate and Professional Student Senate have led efforts to secure more comprehensive and affordable dental insurance for students.

In a February report, the assembly and senate recommended that Yale subsidize a comprehensive dental insurance plan for graduate students, as it does for its faculty members, postdoctoral associates and fellows. The report — written by Susan Pratt GRD ’18, chair of the assembly’s Facilities and Healthcare Committee — said the University could provide a 50 percent subsidy for a more comprehensive insurance plan, with a $1,500 benefit maximum, for enrolled graduate students. According to the report, such a plan would cost each student an annual premium of $290.46 and would be a “more reasonable cost and plan combination as compared to what students have now.”

“It’s been a work in progress and we have gotten quite a bit of support from the University, but I think now we’re realizing that we need something else,” said Wendy Xiao GRD ’18 MED ’18, chair of the Graduate Student Assembly. “We need something more in order to provide graduate students with adequate care.”

University spokesperson Eileen O’Connor told the News that the University is “currently reviewing a proposal by the Graduate Student Assembly.”

Graduate and professional students first obtained an optional dental insurance plan in the fall of 2010. The plan initially cost $140.04 for the entire year but gradually became unprofitable for Delta Dental, leading to an increase in premiums and a subsequent decline in enrollment rates. As premiums increased, low-risk individuals opted out of the plan and more high-risk individuals began to opt in. According to the February report, Delta Dental then designed the 12-month waiting period in hopes of escaping what the group described in meetings with graduate assembly and senate representatives as a “death spiral.” But even after enrollment levels increased and Delta Dental informed the assembly and senate representatives that the graduate and professional student group was out of the “death spiral,” the company denied requests to remove the waiting period, the report stated.

In an official statement to the News, the company said that it does not “publicly discuss existing client business policies or programs.”

“The Yale University Graduate and Professional Students program is a valued client of Delta Dental and we look forward to continued partnership in the future,” the statement read.

Earlier this month, members of the graduate assembly and senate also designated two administrative representatives — Cynthia Smith, associate provost for health affairs and academic integrity, and Hugh Penney, senior director compensation and benefits — to help graduate and professional students negotiate a more comprehensive dental plan. Courchaine said he hopes that by working with staff members with more experience, graduate and professional students will be able to negotiate with current vendors like Delta Dental to acquire a plan with more favorable terms.

Several of Yale’s peer institutions address the issue of dental care differently. Brown University offers its graduate students a subsidized dental insurance plan — a plan that the February report stresses should serve as a model for Yale’s own.

“[Brown’s] plan offers great benefits for the cost — it provides benefits for a range of procedures falling under traditional categories of preventive and diagnostic, basic and major services with no waiting periods — especially when compared to our current plan,” Pratt said.

In 2017, the graduate assembly collected information from nearby dentists to provide graduate students with information about the existing dental plan.

Carly Wanna | carly.wanna@yale.edu