Brief Overview

  • All students have fully funded healthcare through the typical degree length
  • Healthcare coverage (like funding) varies by program and is funded through different mechanisms
  • Our healthcare coverage is some of the best available to graduate students, even compared to unionized programs
  • There is $1,000,000 set aside for students who need to extend their coverage for themselves or their dependents

In-Depth Overview

PhD students in BGS, SAS, SEAS and Wharton have 100% of the health insurance premium ($3348) covered by Penn through at least the 5th year of study.  While students in Nursing and Education have three and four years of coverage, their studies are typically completed at a much quicker rate, thus their funding reflects that nature. Funding varies by school and even department, which means that health insurance coverage also varies.

As an example for how different schools have different funding and health insurance after the 5th year, compare BGS and English. In BGS, students are funded by their department for the first 21 months of study, then by their Principal Investigator for the remainder of their thesis work. The PI is expected to cover salary and fees usually through external grants; this includes paying for health insurance. Funding therefore depends on the PI (and possibly the student) receiving grants to cover the cost of tuition, stipend, and health insurance. In the English program, funding after the 5th year is not guaranteed and needs to be secured by the student through external fellowships. However, health insurance coverage varies between fellowships – some pay for insurance and others do not. We understand the pressure to win an award can be a frustrating and scary, especially for students who secure fellowships but do not have insurance covered. Penn has a $1 million fund to subsidize coverage for students in these situations or those under a leave of absence. Despite claims from GET-UP that their union led to increased coverage, the new $1 million fund was initiated last December. While GET-UP might have sped up the program’s announcement, it did not result the program’s creation.

It is important as well to compare our plan to what a graduate student union won (such as NYU). Note: NYU union members receive the “Basic” plan, not GSHIP. The chart below compares the major benefits of each insurance plan (all coverage is for in-network care)

Benefit Penn Insurance (No Union) NYU Insurance (Union)
Cost $0 $269.70
Out of Pocket Limit $900 $5000
Annual Limit on Covered Costs Unlimited Unlimited
Doctor’s Visit $0 (Student Center) $0 (Student Center)
Emergency Room $100 co-pay (Waived if admitted) 25% of bill and $100 co-pay
Ambulance 100% 100%
Mental Health CAPS (Free), $10 Co-pay elsewhere 25% of bill
Deductible $300 $500

Even with a union, NYU graduate students still have to pay for their health insurance. More importantly, if you compare our health insurance package to NYU’s, you can see that ours is objectively better in almost every category.

Each department has a unique funding situation, program size and average number years to graduation. Given the variability between departments in terms of graduation times and funding mechanisms, we believe a pan-graduate school union is not the most appropriate or efficient way to enact change in department-specific policies. It would be faster and more feasible to secure a union contract with benefits for a handful of similarly funded programs, such as the non-science programs in SAS. In the long run, program-specific unionization would help ensure departments can handle the burden of financing additional benefits with minimal disruption to program enrollment, prestige and/or productivity.

Like taxes, health insurance can be difficult and frustrating to navigate. Stories of students being charged “unfairly” are less likely evidence of systemic flaws in our health insurance and more likely indicate that students could be better educated about how health insurance works and the terms of Aetna’s student policy. Contrary to GET-UP’s assertion that our healthcare plan is opaque and inconsistent, policy terms are readily available online and clearly outline the difference between in-network and out-of-network coverage. Part of the reason for requiring a referral from primary care is a system of checks-and-balances to ensure that students seeking specialist care only do so if necessary. Referrals help to decrease cost for everyone as it prevents specialists from being overbooked with requests that could be handled by a primary physician.