Improved health benefits for graduate students on the way

Changes recommended by working group will be in place for 2018-19 academic year

Many graduate students at Johns Hopkins University will have new options for dental and vision coverage, lower deductibles for health care, and improved mental health coverage in the coming academic year thanks to a major university investment designed to improve the health benefits available to students.

"Johns Hopkins places tremendous value on the health of our students. We want to ensure that our health plans, policies, and support services meet the diverse needs of our student population."
Sunil Kumar
Provost, Johns Hopkins University

The health plan changes, which will take effect over the next few months, come in part in response to concerns raised by graduate students about the affordability and accessibility of available health care plans. Students can expect more information in the near future about specific changes to their health care options. Importantly, students who receive coverage for their medical insurance benefit will now also have their dental and vision insurance benefits covered. The enhanced coverage represents a university investment of close to $1 million.

"Johns Hopkins places tremendous value on the health of our students," JHU Provost Sunil Kumar said. "We want to ensure that our health plans, policies, and support services meet the diverse needs of our student population, that they evolve as those needs change, and that they reflect a clear commitment to supporting our students' well-being."

In response to graduate student concerns related to health care coverage, Kumar assembled a working group of graduate student representatives, faculty members, and administrators in spring 2017. The recommendations of the group—the Provost's Advisory Team on Healthcare, or PATH—were endorsed by university leadership in May.

"We are strongly committed to working together to address our students' concerns," said Stephen Gange, executive vice provost for academic affairs and PATH's chair. "Bringing together students and leadership allowed us to more deeply assess what the core issues were for our graduate students and how to address them while being sensitive to cost considerations."

Currently, there are two health plans available to Johns Hopkins students:

  • The Student Health Program, or SHP, is offered to postdocs across the university as well as graduate students at the schools of Medicine, Public Health, and Nursing
  • The Consolidated Health Plan, or CHP, is offered to students at JHU's remaining six academic divisions

PATH prioritized an analysis of CHP, comparing the plan's benefits to those offered by SHP and by two dozen peer institutions. Many of the group's recommendations are designed to improve the CHP benefits and bring them into closer alignment with those offered by SHP, something Gange said was "a logical first step."

Students covered by CHP will now benefit from lower deductibles, lower and more predictable copayments, and improved mental health coverage, bringing this plan more in line with benefits offered by SHP. SHP benefits will remain the same.

In addition, all students will have access to a new vision care plan, and many students will have access to new dental coverage.

Prior to drafting its recommendations, PATH surveyed CHP-eligible graduate students to gauge interest in various health insurance offerings. Among the 916 respondents, 80 percent expressed an interest in dental and vision benefits.

As survey results also suggested that a substantial number of students feel under-informed about their health insurance options, PATH members partnered with JHU Human Resources to create a website detailing student health benefits. The site, which can be found at http://jhu.edu/studenthealthbenefits, went live today. Additionally, students can contact student affairs staff within their academic division for more information.

PATH also proposed steps to minimize inconsistencies in mental health coverage across divisions, one of the recommendations of the university's Task Force on Student Mental Health and Well-Being. That group, tasked with evaluating the support programs and mental health resources for students, issued its recommendations in February.

PATH will continue to meet during the 2018-19 academic year to consider additional ways to improve the student health care experience at Hopkins, Gange said.

"We're by no means finished, but we think we have made considerable progress," he said. "I look forward to working with PATH in the next year to continue improving benefits, services, and ultimately the health of our students."

Posted in University News

Tagged student health

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