University’s healthcare plan didn’t work for this student

As a large research institution, the University of Utah is, in many regards, renowned for its academic and research prowess.

What it’s also known for is the abysmal quality of its so-called student health insurance (SHI) plan. It’s a failure that confuses students, leaving them not knowing when they’ll receive care or how to get it.

Several of its components are troubling, to say the least. The referral process is, on paper, a cost-saving measure that, in reality, frustrates and prevents students from receiving care. The billing system is equally unintelligible, leaving students in the dark about how much their care will cost until they’re hit with a huge bill. And let’s not forget about the meager state of essential healthcare services such as prescription medications and vaccines. If you want a prescription filled, get ready to jump through hoops and spend hours trying to get reimbursed for only a portion of what you’ve paid. Suffice it to say, if you’re a current or prospective student reading this, I sincerely hope you don’t have any long-term healthcare needs that require specialists or any sudden, short-term healthcare needs, for that matter.

Let me give you personal examples.

In the first semester of my graduate program, I broke my arm. The SHI plan policy stipulates that I must go to the student health center (SHC) first, no matter how extreme. If I had circumvented the SHC and gone to the ER, I would’ve needed to be admitted to the hospital overnight for my SHI plan to kick in. So, despite a broken arm, I dialed the SHC, only to be told I needed to wait two weeks to see the appropriate doctor, who was only there once a week. Once there, they wrote an order to have my arm cast… In Farmington… in a week… because there were no doctors at the University hospital to do it. Rather than risk paying tens of thousands of dollars, I stuck out the pain of a broken arm. When I finally received care, it cost me about $6,000 out-of-pocket. Is this the quality of healthcare the university wants to be known for and for which they are subjecting their students?

Then there was the time I attended a drop-in clinic on campus to receive potentially life-saving vaccines for the flu and COVID. After doing my due diligence and getting vaccinated against the flu, I received a bill seven months later for $70, like it was some sort of exclusive VIP experience. If I want to pay that much for a shot, I’d go to a fancy cocktail bar and order a top-shelf martini. Instead, I got a bill for a flu vaccine that my SHI plan should’ve covered. What’s next, charging me for the air I breathe on campus?

These two examples are just the tip of the iceberg of how the University of Utah SHI plan is a disservice to students, as my experiences are undoubtedly the experiences of many others. As long as the university continues to treat students as disposable, second-rate individuals, I’ll be embarrassed at the mere thought of having been associated with such an institution. Until they make a dramatic improvement in their treatment of students, I refuse to shrug off their blatant disregard for the well-being and dignity of those who put their trust in this institution.

It’s time for the university to realize that its actions have consequences and that there is an increasingly angry body of students who are fed up with the university prioritizing profits over people. If they refuse to make significant changes, they will continue to lose the respect and support of those they claim to serve.

The University of Utah can’t continue turning a blind eye to the thousands of students harmed by its subpar SHI plan; it completely abdicates its responsibility to student welfare. University officials are actively perpetuating inequities that put students in physical, emotional, and financial danger while boasting about how much they care about students’ well-being. The time for empty promises and half-hearted efforts is over. The university needs to step up and take substantive action to show that they value their students’ lives and futures.

Briant Novinska-Lois is a Salt Lake City resident who graduated from the University of Utah on Friday with a Master’s degree in City & Metropolitan Planning

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