A lot has happened in the two weeks since Bwog broke the story of abortions no longer being covered for many Columbia students. Spec wrote an article, then an editorial, Jezebel posted about the issue, and the Dems launched a major publicity campaign—complete with high-profile endorsements from people like Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (who represents the East Side) and a Change.org petition with nearly 300 signatures. Apparently, all the publicity made a difference.
Last night, Health Services announced the creation of a discretionary fund to cover the cost of “special, time-sensitive healthcare needs”—including abortions, and possibly mental health or substance abuse treatment—for students without Columbia Health Insurance. This includes both full-time students without Columbia insurance and part-time students. The money for the fund won’t come from mandatory student health fees, so even anti-abortion students should be happy. The head of Columbia Right to Life actually told Spec the fund is “really good solution.”
Needless to say, the Dems also see the creation of fund as a really good solution. Zoe Ridolfi-Starr, CC ’15, has led the Dems campaign for abortion coverage. She spoke to Bwog about her reaction to the Health Services announcement.
“I’m cautiously happy,” she says. “Based on the language they used in the press release, it sounds like they’re doing exactly what we asked for.” Or more. The Dems only asked for a fund to cover all full-time students, but Health Services says their fund will also cover part-time students. “That’s kind of an added bonus!” says Ridolfi-Starr. But the campaign’s not over yet. Health Services says they’ll release details “in the next few weeks” regarding how students can apply to get money from the fund, and Ridolfi-Starr says she’ll be paying close attention to the details. “I’m perpetually paranoid that they’re taking the easy way out,” she admits.
Her biggest concern is whether the fund will have enough money to cover all the people who need it. Historically, the number of students going to Health Services to get coverage for abortions has been pretty small—about 4 per year—but part of that is because most students didn’t realize Health Services covered abortions. Now that many more students realize abortions are covered, the number will probably increase. Combine that with the fact that the fund will cover some non-abortion services, Ridolfi-Starr says, and it could get quite expensive to cover everything.
Those concerns aside, she’s happy that Health Services recognized the importance of covering abortions for students not on Columbia insurance. She just wishes they would have told her about it. “I am disappointed that they didn’t let me know,” she says. “I found out from a Spec reporter!”
Here’s the Health Services statement, with the most important parts in bold:
This month, students highlighted that the supplemental healthcare coverage previously provided via the Columbia Health Program Fee served an important role for certain students who were either uninsured or did not want to avail themselves of their non-Columbia insurance coverage. After considering these recently raised concerns, Columbia Health is establishing a new confidential discretionary fund for students enrolled in a degree program at Morningside to help cover special, time-sensitive healthcare needs, in a manner consistent with state and federal rules and regulations.
All full-time students are required to have healthcare coverage, either through the Columbia insurance plan or through a comparable external policy. More than two-thirds of full-time students are covered by the Columbia Student Medical Insurance Plan. Fewer than a third of full-time students typically opt out and are covered by other policies.
It is important to note that no change has been made to the range of student healthcare covered under the University-provided insurance. The Columbia Student Medical Insurance Plan has covered and continues to cover, in a confidential manner, the healthcare issues that were addressed under the prior supplemental program.
Every year, Columbia re-evaluates the student healthcare services to ensure that the University provides comprehensive and cost-effective support to students. The review process is guided by the University Insurance Advisory Committee, which includes representatives from across the Columbia community.
In the spring of 2012, the Advisory Committee recognized that, to be compliant with the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the supplemental program would need to be expanded, essentially replicating the Columbia Student Medical Insurance Plan and comparable insurance provided by students or their parents. Therefore, the Advisory Committee deemed the supplemental program redundant and unnecessarily costly to all students. Columbia removed the supplemental program and reduced the mandatory Health Program Fee.
The new discretionary fund is for situations in which students choose for personal reasons not to avail themselves of their external healthcare coverage. It will also provide support to students whose health insurance does not include the necessary benefits, or who are part-time students not covered by health insurance. Financial support for the new fund will not be sourced from any mandatory student health fees. Details on access and procedures will be announced in the next few weeks.
Abortion money via Shutterstock