Students upset with new health fee planning to protest at Cornell Student Assembly meeting

February 12, 2015 by Rachel Cera

Cornell University students are upset about a health fee announced last week by the University, and some plan to protest this afternoon at a scheduled Student Assembly meeting. The action comes after a group of over 100 students occupied President David Skorton's office and other administrative offices in Day Hall on Monday.

Students occupy Day Hall on Monday. Photo courtesy of FightTheFee group.Students occupy Day Hall on Monday. Photo courtesy of FightTheFee group.The University plans to institute a $350 annual health fee that will be assessed on students who opt out of Cornell's own Student Health Insurance Program, such as those who choose to remain on their parents' insurance policies. Cornell says as things stand now, students who don't have SHIP must pay for each visit to Gannett Health Center and for treatments and procedures, and that instituting the fee will eliminate all but a $10 co-pay per visit. For some students, having to pay for each visit acts as a barrier to seeking healthcare, the University says, putting students' mental and physical health at risk.

In a statement, Vice President Susan Murphy says Cornell had already increased services at Gannett "in the wake of two major public health crises as well as growing enrollment and demand," but that there was no permanent source of funding to cover the ongoing costs. Under the new funding model announced on February 5th, "everyone will participate in supporting campus health," she says. The funding "will include central University resources," as well as all students. "Students on SHIP through a portion of their premium, and other students through the health fee."

Students protesting the fee say it's disrespectful of their choice to use other health insurance providers, which in many cases are far more affordable than Cornell's SHIP coverage, especially when students can be covered by a parent's employer-based insurance. Others lament a "nickel and dime" approach, though Cornell points out that charging separately for some items is fairer than asking everyone to pay for services whether they use them or not.

Alexandra Gremillion, a Cornell sophomore and an organizer of the #FightTheFee group, says Monday's protest at Day Hall was to highlight "administrators' complete disregard for shared governance at Cornell." She says the fee was instituted without involving the student body or Student Assembly, which "while originally notified that the fee was on the table, only found out about its implementation a few hours before their meeting with President Skorton last Thursday." A Cornell University Police Department official says students left Day Hall on Monday of their own volition, and the building was able to close for the evening on schedule.

Gremillion also challenges Cornell's contention that the entire $350 would go to cover student health services, saying only half would go to "increasing health services and reducing co-pays," while $75 would go to serving Gannett Health Center debt and $100 would go towards "future deficits from increased health services."

VP Murphy says, "Students on SHIP already have low-cost access to campus health services paid through their premium. With the health fee, students with other insurance also will have low-cost access, paying only a $10 copayment for each visit at Gannett." She says most other charges, such as in-house lab tests, X-rays, and procedures, "will be covered fully with no out-of-pocket costs." She adds, "Students will not need to file insurance claims for covered Gannett services, such as tests for sexually transmitted infections, improving student confidentially." Cornell also says students can work with the University's financial aid staff to arrange for the health fee to be covered by their financial aid package, which isn't an option for charges assessed for visits to the campus clinic.

Today's Student Assembly meeting is scheduled at 4:45pm in the Memorial Room at Cornell's Willard Straight Hall.

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