History professor Robert Zaller recently wrote on the impropriety of Drexel University’s new pension plan (The Triangle, Nov. 21), and the way it was not properly designed in consultation with the faculty senate — a body, it seems, greatly troubled by a lack of openness and expressed jurisdiction, much like our Undergraduate Student Government Association.
As a frequent reader of Zaller’s articles, I have mixed feelings about his work, though I cannot help but empathize in this situation. University policy regarding health insurance for students is similarly questionable; while all complex financial products have an element of racketeering to them, the University greatly exacerbates this.
For those not familiar, it is University policy that all students should have health insurance. Where the IRS contents itself with administering a tax for those who do not comply with its “individual mandate,” Drexel is more practical: those who do not prove they are sufficiently insured are automatically enrolled in an Aetna-sponsored plan and billed for it as though it were tuition — and we know what happens when you don’t pay that.
This policy stems from the benevolent idea that students should not have their studies interrupted due to sudden medical bills, but like the elevated rail lines so despised in poorer North Philadelphia neighborhoods, projects with good intentions can have very bad outcomes, especially for minority populations.
This isn’t about the ineffective way the insurance provision is run, but rather the insurance requirement itself, which is strongly discriminatory. Most students can avoid paying the $1,901 (up 16.5 percent from last year!) by answering basic questions about the health insurance policy they have.
It works quite differently for international students — they cannot substitute any old health insurance policy, but must have coverage sponsored by their national embassy. The result is predictable: when I inquired with the Office of Health Insurance and Immunizations, Director Rita Magaziner revealed that 92 percent of international undergraduates are enrolled into the Drexel plan, compared to just 3.1 percent of domestic undergraduates.
Any policy which discriminates between students based on their country of origin deserves the highest scrutiny and suspicion. But the “international” student category is, of course, not just limited to true visitors from other nations — it includes anyone who has not had the good fortune of being able to obtain U.S. citizenship or a Green Card, no matter how many times they may have repeated the Pledge of Allegiance growing up.
The way the policy is applied leads to a ridiculous situation in which two nearly identical people having the same health insurance policy can be treated differently — the one without a Green Card would have to pay for a second policy forced on them by the University, the one with U.S. citizenship would not.
To some extent this reflects the underlying injustice built into our immigration system, but the University very much has a choice in the matter. It is concerned with health insurance, and therefore, it should limit its scope of review to that health insurance.
Magaziner wrote, “many international students may be unfamiliar with the health care system in the U.S. … We have also found that outside coverage, which sometimes may be less expensive, has not been providing students access to proper care.”
But when these international students actually do have ample coverage from an American insurer, there’s no reason they should be discriminated against. It is also patently offensive to presume ignorance based on national origin — surely no one would accept it if incoming freshmen were placed in remedial classes based on ethnicity, even though ethnic disparities in college preparedness do exist.
Even for foreign health insurance policies, the requirement that they be embassy-sponsored is onerous. Moldova, whose ambassador I recently had the pleasure of interviewing, does not maintain a consulate in Philadelphia.
So what are Moldovan students to do?
They can hardly be expected to pop in for a visit at the embassy in Washington, D.C. and besides, the embassy is not an expert on Moldovan health insurance. If the Office of Health Insurance and Immunization is skeptical about working with foreign insurers, it should educate students about the possibility of obtaining domestic insurance, instead of throwing them under the bus.
The insurance mandate is but one of several institutions within Drexel which claim to offer a service (including Drexel Campus Dining; see my article in The Triangle, April 25) but don’t really, and moreover, don’t achieve the purpose they were created to serve.
These institutions are generally disliked by the people that use them and, suspiciously, they tend to involve a financial benefit for the University. This severely erodes confidence in the administration and accordingly, if there really is any good intent attached to these policies, the University should make reforming them a high priority.
Kim Post is a co-chief copy editor at The Triangle He can be contacted at [email protected].