Grad students receive discounted health insurance

By Trent Lowe, Staff Writer

Although their bank accounts and food reserves seem to be dwindling, graduate students can at least rest assured about their health insurance.

Many graduate students at the U qualify for a discounted health benefits plan, with the U funding 80 percent of the cost and, in a few cases, paying the entire price for the coverage.

“The biochemistry department provides us with a stipend, and that includes full health, dental and eye insurance,” said Thomas Orsak, a doctoral candidate in biochemistry. “Most departments don’t offer that, but it actually provides for my whole family.”

Orsak, his wife and their three children are covered under the program, which is available to all undergraduate and graduate students, but only certain types of students are eligible for the price reduction.

Graduate students who are employed by the U and classified as either teaching assistants or research assistants can receive benefits offered by the U through the insurance company GM-Southwest, based out of Frisco, Texas. The program, called the “tuition benefit program,” gives students tuition and health services.

“Several years ago, the graduate school decided that they wanted to subsidize their research and teaching assistants,” said Kari Ellingson, associate vice president for student development. “When it first started, the graduate school would offer up to $1,000, and now they have 80 percent coverage from the university.”

Most qualified students are responsible for the remaining 20 percent, but each department determines its own policies of how much each student will pay for his or her coverage. Orsak and other students in the biochemistry and molecular biology programs receive free coverage thanks to their programs covering the remaining 20 percent.

“Most medical-related programs will give you stipends of that much, but I know that other departments give less,” Orsak said. “Otherwise, we’d have to pay for insurance out-of-pocket, which is what I did at BYU while I was an undergraduate.”

Nearly all graduate students take advantage of the benefits, but administrators encourage students who have other options, including jumping on the health plan of a parent or spouse, to do so.

“About 90 percent of the students have the insurance during their first year of graduate school,” said Barb Saffel, administrative program coordinator in the molecular biology program.

Students are required to utilize the university services, including the Madsen Student Health Center and University Hospital, but other clinics and hospitals are available in the event of an emergency.

Most students are grateful for the services, especially those like Orsak who wouldn’t have the opportunity to insure their families otherwise.

“This is one of the driving factors that brought me to this program and the University of Utah,” Orsak said. “I came to the U married and with one kid, so the fact that they provided those services helped me decide to come here. It’s definitely a draw for students to come to the U.”

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