Not an “honest misadventure” | Penn State grad students experience health insurance delays and complications | Penn State, State College News

Maggie Hernandez felt helpless when she went to get a prescription for a chronic condition and was told their health insurance was inactive.

Because she’s finishing her graduate school in Miami, Hernandez (an anthropology major) couldn’t pick up her prescription from University Health Services the day she realized they couldn’t access it through her insurance plan. student illness on August 22.

To make matters worse, Hernandez had the coronavirus at the time.

“I was scared, wasn’t I? I happen to have COVID – I’m out of meds for a chronic condition I have, I felt really helpless. Hernandez said. “I’m just crossing my fingers and hope my COVID doesn’t develop; it’s so stressful on top of starting the school year.

Karen Kline, student health insurance manager at University Health Services, said via email that there is a “subset of graduate student appointments for the fall 2022 semester that have been unexpectedly delayed”.

According to Kline, “the unforeseen delay for the subset of graduate student appointments is not entirely within the students’ control.”

SHIP is the health insurance plan offered by First Risk Advisors, underwritten by UnitedHealthcare Student Resources at Penn State, according to its website.

“Students should complete their background checks and other processes to ensure the process can move forward,” Kline said. “Students cannot control when an appointment is submitted by their department.”

When asked for a statement, Will Holman, director of communications at UnitedHealthcare, said via email, “I understand that Penn State has contacted [The Daily Collegian] and the problem has been solved.

Soon word spread revealing that several graduate students were having the same problem – some being forced to pay for prescriptions or medical appointment copayments out of pocket to be reimbursed afterwards, which was not. an option for some who were unable to pay immediately.

And some students had to wait a week for prescriptions, while others had to reschedule doctor’s appointments.

When Bailey Campbell heard about it, she saw her therapist who confirmed that, as Campbell (an electrical engineering graduate) had feared, her coverage was listed as “inactive” in the system.

“No one warned graduate students about this, so what are we supposed to think?” Campbell said. “We just go to the supplier and they tell us we don’t have insurance.”

Kline said that “a graduate assistant, graduate fellow, or graduate trainee will not appear in the system as having activated health insurance until their appointment is finalized.”

This may be why some affected students were told by their doctors that they had no insurance during this time.

For graduate assistant Olivia Reed, the problem led to her being denied treatment for chronic migraines that her doctor had prescribed in July.

When her doctor called for the treatment, she said she had received a letter from UnitedHealthcare saying there was “no record of her enrollment for the upcoming school year,” and that the doctor should “try again in 60 days”. ”

Unable to put off treatment any longer, her doctor estimated the treatment would cost between $800 and $1,600, and Reed (Graduate Media Studies) would have to sign a waiver saying she would pay for it despite her insurance denying it. treatment.

“I was really frustrated…I had problems with United all summer, so I feel like I’m paying health insurance for no reason,” Reed said. “Penn State does not want to take any responsibility.”

Reed said it was “comical” that graduate students weren’t made aware of the issue until he had already introduced himself to several students.

Thanks to replies on Twitter from frustrated graduate students sharing this experience, students quickly realized that this had happened over the past few years as well.

On behalf of affected graduate students, Campbell began contacting Penn State’s Graduate School about the issue, and on August 24, a memo was posted for graduate students, which Campbell said was not made accessible. to most students. because it was in the form of a locked PDF.

Graduate employee Bailey Campbell poses for a photo outside the Electrical Engineering Building Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2022 in University Park, Pennsylvania.

The note stated:

“It is important to note that a subset of graduate assistant, graduate fellow, and graduate trainee nominations for the fall 2022 semester have been unexpectedly delayed. Therefore, the Penn State Student Health Insurance Plan has not yet been activated with UnitedHealthcare Student Resources for these students.

“However, coverage will be retroactive to August 13, 2022 for all graduate assistants, graduate fellows, or graduate trainees and their dependents who are enrolled in student health insurance for Penn State upon completion of the onboarding process. The graduate school is working with HR Shared Services to ensure that the remaining appointments are completed as soon as possible.

According to the memo, students requiring health care during this time were asked to “not delay” important medical appointments or prescription refills, to use UHS, and were told that the Office student health insurance will be able to “help with reimbursement”.

Sarah Ades, associate dean of the Graduate School, said via email that the school does not manage the nomination process that enrolls students in SHIP; therefore, the Doctoral School was “unaware of the delay” and “could not send communication in advance”.

“As soon as we learned of the situation, we immediately contacted the relevant offices to gather the appropriate information to help students navigate the system if they encountered any issues,” Ades said. “We will be conducting a thorough review of the appointments process in the coming days to determine what can be done to prevent or minimize this from happening in the future.”

Graduate students and affected employees said they were unhappy with Penn State’s response to the issue.

Hernandez said the memo was a response to Campbell “pressuring the school.”

“The memo says almost nothing,” Campbell said. “What [the memo] said is correct, but it does not contradict our experience that for a week or more we had this problem.”

Campbell said there are “times when it’s not possible to go to UHS,” including being out of town, like in Hernandez’s situation. She also said there have been times when certain prescriptions were not available at UHS.

Going to UHS was also not an option for a graduate student in the psychology department who was out of state when he realized the problem was happening.

The student, who wished to remain anonymous, suffers from chronic migraines and back and neck problems, and his medication has failed to relieve the pain.

The student went to emergency care to be vaccinated on August 17 and was told he had no health insurance. Urgent care refused the student’s treatment, “even with doctor’s orders.”

Their only option was to pay $125 out of pocket for the tour, not including the cost of the shot. They suffered for days and missed a week of work without treatment before returning to the doctor without issue on August 20.

“I’m terrified of what I saw that I’m going to get a ridiculous bill,” the student said. “It was so out of nowhere for me – I didn’t even know what to do.”

Kline said affected students who needed services outside of UHS were asked to contact the Office of Student Health Insurance regarding medical care and prescriptions.

Rising frustration in Twitter feeds over the issue caught the attention of Michael Skvarla, an assistant research professor of entomology.

He tweeted: “I’m sorry but what the new h— is this @GradSchoolPSU? How do I get my students to do field work (or any other work for that matter ) if they don’t have health insurance?

Erika Machtinger, assistant professor of entomology, replied: “I agree, but please remember this happens every August. It’s not good, but it’s not new.

For graduate student Steven Baksa, it was no “honest accident”.

“It has happened before, the only difference is that many graduate students notice it,” said Baksa (materials science and engineering graduate). “The thought of not having health insurance for even a week is quite nerve-wracking.”

Baksa said that as a Penn State graduate employee, employees are “prohibited” from taking second jobs.

“How it works is they require you to have health insurance, and technically you don’t have to use it,” Baksa said. “But, if you’re locked in and don’t have that option from another employer, Penn State’s health insurance program seems like the only option.”

According to Penn State’s policy website, no person in a paid position may be appointed to more than one full-time job at the same time.

Hernandez said having outside jobs is “frowned upon” as part of the graduate program because “the culture of it is that students only work in college.”

For graduate employees over the age of 26 who are no longer covered by their parents’ health insurance, this leaves SHIP as the seemingly most advantageous coverage option, if not the only one.

Campbell said this problem was part of a “long series of problems graduate students face that need to be addressed.”

“Above all,” Baksa said he expects “an apology regarding this accident” from the university as well as an explanation of “why this happened” and what Penn State will do “to s to ensure that this does not happen again in the future”. .”

“It’s not like, ‘Oh, Penn State is a bad employer.’ It’s like Penn State doesn’t treat graduate students well, and that’s another example.

If you are interested in submitting a letter to the editor, click here.

Leave a Reply