It’s heartbreaking to see your mother cry. A certain feeling of helplessness grips every fiber of your being and destroys you from within. Earlier this year, my single mom was unemployed. Our household — my mother, my grandfather and myself — was left without a source of income, without health insurance and without hope during a pandemic.
We struggled to navigate the increasingly complex bureaucracy of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. My family wondered if we would all make it out of this pandemic, alive and together. Relying on the income I was receiving from my multiple student jobs and my mom’s unemployment benefits, we were able to scrape by. This pandemic has affected every one of our lives. From the stresses of quarantine, to our families falling ill, to our economies crashing, to the millions who are unemployed. Our lives will never be the same. But that doesn’t mean it’s going to be worse. It means we have a chance to do better. To be better. We have been given this opportunity to take pause, reevaluate and reimagine a world — and a Yale — that would better serve all of us.
Health care is a basic human right. And every student should have access to health care regardless of their enrollment status and location. Yale College students deserve leaders who will advocate for a fundamental restructuring of Yale Health. I want no student to ever have to endure what my family went through this spring. Right as we were facing an international public health emergency, we did not have any healthcare insurance coverage. If I had been on campus, I would have been able to use my Yale Health Basic Coverage — but at home, I did not have that option. I understand the gravity of having to go without healthcare, especially now, and I will fight to make that sense of fear and anxiety a thing of the past for my peers.
Currently, students cannot use Yale Health student health insurance outside Yale Health or other participating clinics in Connecticut. If you break your leg in Massachusetts, Yale Health will not cover it. If you contract COVID-19 and require hospitalization and do not have health insurance outside of Yale Health, you will need to pay out of pocket. This has always been unfair, but is of particular concern now.
For the first time ever, a majority of our student body is away from campus, either studying remotely or on leave. These students have lost their Yale Health Basic Coverage and are barred from enrolling in Hospitalization/Speciality care coverage. These students can instead obtain Affiliate/Self-Pay coverage plans, but these plans are two hundred and eighty-eighty percent more expensive than the Hospitalization/Speciality care coverage that is offered to enrolled students. Moreover, the deadline to apply for Yale Health insurance ended on Sept. 15 for the fall semester and is set as Jan. 15th for the spring semester. As a result, students will be left completely uninsured if they missed a deadline. This needs to change. No student should be penalized and possibly face immense financial strain simply because they are away from campus due to circumstances beyond their control.
My administration will advocate for short-term policies that will bridge these inequities and set a strong foundation for longer-term initiatives, ensuring students are never again forced into these precarious and vulnerable situations. We will advocate for Yale to extend the enrollment deadline for health insurance indefinitely and for students to only pay a prorated fee from whenever they do choose to enroll. We will expand Yale Health Basic Coverage to all Yalies regardless of their enrollment status, and this change will allow LOA students in New Haven and across the country to be insured. We will implement a “COVID-19 Insurance Rider” program similar to the existing “travel rider,” which will allow students on LOAs or those enrolled remotely to receive healthcare coverage anywhere in the United States. We will expand Safety Net coverage by creating a new funding category for COVID-19-related expenses, which all Yalies regardless of their enrollment status or location would be able to access. We would begin advocating for these policy changes immediately. These are changes our community could witness by the end of this fall semester.
Our longer-term health policy plan will work to transition Yale Health from its current Healthcare Management Organization (HMO) model — which only gives us health coverage within Connecticut and mandates that we see providers only within the Yale Health system — to a Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) model, which other colleges such as Harvard and Columbia already have in place. This is done through partnerships with insurance companies such as Aetna and Anthem Blue Cross, and the result would allow students to have healthcare coverage anywhere in the nation, and even anywhere in New Haven. Yalies would not be limited to the healthcare providers available to them through Yale Health. If wait times are too long for mental health services, for example, they would have the freedom to find other providers in the New Haven area and have their care covered by Yale Health insurance.
While we will make healthcare policy a priority, our administration will do so much more. Healthcare and COVID-19 relief measures constitute only one out of seven pillars in our platform. We recognize that this is ambitious. We recognize that in the past, our ideas may have been cast aside as ‘impractical.’ But we are ready to fight for our community. We wouldn’t be running if we weren’t.
I believe that Matt and I are the best candidates to execute these policies because our backgrounds have informed our lived experiences. I grew up in Kentucky as a low-income queer person of color and I know how the healthcare system and other institutions fail my communities consistently. My experiences in student government — as a first-year representative for Benjamin Franklin College, a YCC Senator, one of the founding members of Universal Pass, the creator of the $100,000 Student Green Innovation Fund, the Vice President of the Franklin College Council and Franklin’s Sustainability Liaison — also give me the institutional knowledge to advocate for and implement progressive and transformational policies.
To say that this election is important would be an understatement. This election will determine whether or not our most vulnerable peers will have access to healthcare in a global pandemic. This election will determine whether or not we are going to center Black, first-generation low-income and transgender voices in our student government to advocate for ourselves and our communities.
Elect representatives who come from these communities. We have skin in the game. Elect the first ticket comprised solely of first-generation, low-income students. Elect one of the first openly queer people of color to the presidency. Vote for progressive, intersectional change. The time to act is now.
ABEY PHILIP is a junior in Benjamin Franklin College. He is running for President of the Yale College Council. Contact him at email@example.com .