New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

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Unpacking the Graduate Student-NYU Healthcare Conflict

NYU explained in a recent statement to WSN why it lied about needing to consolidate graduate student healthcare plans.
The Graduate Student Organizing Committee is calling for NYU to fire professor Avital Ronell, who was suspended last year for sexual harassment. (Photo courtesy GSOC)
Hom-Lum Cheung-Cheng
The Graduate Student Organizing Committee is calling for NYU to fire professor Avital Ronell, who was suspended last year for sexual harassment. (Photo courtesy GSOC)

One week after WSN reported on NYU lying to its graduate students about a requirement to consolidate healthcare plans, the implications and extent of this misrepresentation of the truth remain unclear.

What happened
The Graduate Student Health Insurance Plan was consolidated with NYU’s Comprehensive plan. GSHIP was available to doctoral students in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences under the Henry M. MacCracken program, which provides multi-year funding to most doctoral students in GSAS.

As a result of the consolidation, there was a $10 increase in co-pays as well as 90 instead of 100 percent coverage of certain tests, including X-rays and durable medical devices at the Student Health Center.

The Graduate Student Organizing Committee claimed that this change violated their contract, which began in 2015, and states that employees’ conditions of employment are to remain the same until it expires on Aug. 1, 2020.

Students were repeatedly told that the consolidation occurred because of a requirement by the New York State Department of Financial Services, which a spokesperson from the agency denied.

NYU’s point of view
Every year, NYU reaches out to the New York State Department of Financial Services to informally review its health insurance plans before officially reviewing them, in order to address any issues beforehand. If the plans were to be formally rejected, it could disrupt the NYU’s ability to offer insurance, according to university spokesperson John Beckman.

Last year, NYU was informed that there was an issue with offering GSHIP.

To be offered GSHIP, students have to be part of the MacCracken program. However, federal regulation states that risk pools can be distinguished only by a “bona fide school-related classification.” The MacCracken program does not count as a school-related classification.

“Ultimately, the University decided to combine Comprehensive and GSHIP as a way to ensure that all risk pools were based on a bona fide school-related classification and the rates were in compliance with the law,” Beckman wrote in a statement to WSN.

To solve this problem, NYU consolidated GSHIP and the Comprehensive plan because there were fewer students enrolled in GSHIP — around 1,000 compared to the estimated 5,000 using the Comprehensive plan. Fewer students’ coverage would change this way. Additionally, the premiums of GSHIP were higher than the Comprehensive plan but Comprehensive plan members pay their own premiums, so it would result in lower costs for students, according to Beckman.

Does that mean they didn’t lie?
In a recent email to WSN, the Department of Financial Services reasserted their statement that they did not require NYU to consolidate the plans.

“The Department of Financial Services did not require consolidation of the NYU health plans,” DFS wrote in an email to WSN. “The decision was made by NYU. The Department’s role is to ensure that health plan rates are not excessive, inadequate or unfairly discriminatory and reflect the benefits provided by plans.”

NYU sees its assertion, made by multiple administrators, as an “attempt to simplify a complex subject,” Beckman said. However, the DFS statement suggests the use of the word “required,” was a lie. Although it is unclear what other options the university may have had after the plans were rejected, the DFS did not force them to choose consolidation as a solution.

Is this legal?
GSOC and NYU underwent arbitration on Jan. 16, in which a mutually agreed upon third party was presented with arguments from both sides on why the consolidation did or did not violate GSOC’s contract with the university.

According to the steward in GSOC and co-chair of the organizing committee, Caroline Bowman, GSOC and its local union representative are speaking with lawyers about how this could affect the arbitration.

For one, arbitration is done under oath. Bowman said that Executive Director of the Student Health Center Dr. Carlo Ciotoli asserted that the university was required to consolidate the plans during arbitration. If this is considered a lie, it could warrant a perjury charge.

Where does this leave GSOC?
Bowman said that, besides looking into the legal repercussions, she is frustrated that the university did not consult with GSOC about different ways they could address the concerns raised by DFS.

“Given the nature of this requirement, there appears to have been different options that NYU might have been able to take to comply with what they were being told,” Bowman said. “The union should have been notified and consulted in figuring out next steps or how the university could comply with this regulation while also maintaining the benefits that we think we’re entitled to in virtue of our collective bargaining agreement.”

A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Feb. 11, 2019, print edition. Email Victor Porcelli at [email protected]

About the Contributor
Victor Porcelli, News Editor
Victor Porcelli is a junior studying Public Policy. He's from Central Jersey, the existence of which he will vehemently defend. Outside of journalism, he likes romcoms and ... he can't think of anything else. He aspires to becoming verified on twitter so follow him @victor_porcelli.
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