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VP Murphy issues statement on student health fee

Vice President for Student and Academic Services Susan Murphy issued the following statement Feb. 11:

The university student health fee introduced last week understandably has created concern for some students and their families. However, the fee is necessary to create a sustainable model for health services while also increasing accessibility and protecting student privacy.

As President Skorton said in his statement, our current funding model is unsustainable. At the peak of the university’s financial crisis, we made the decision to increase services at Gannett in the wake of two major public health crises as well as growing enrollment and demand. There was not sufficient permanent funding available to pay for those expanded services, so we relied initially on gifts and reserves, and then borrowed funds internally to cover the costs. We now must resolve the funding issue, including paying back those borrowed funds so they can be used elsewhere.

Without this investment over the last several years, and without the fee moving forward, we would be left with two alternatives: 1) charge more at the time students seek care, or 2) cut services. Neither option is acceptable. Charging more would increase barriers to access; and cutting staffing, in the face of growing demand and student enrollment, would be irresponsible.

We made the choice to change the funding model. There are two key components: 1) continued use of central university resources, and 2) pre-paid contributions from students. Students on SHIP will contribute more through the portion of their premium that pays for services delivered at Gannett; students with their own insurance will contribute through $200 of the new health fee, which includes payback of the borrowed funds.

For students not enrolled in SHIP, we also are addressing longstanding access issues. The additional funding generated by the health fee ($150 per student) will be used to eliminate most charges at the time of care, reducing barriers that have proven increasingly problematic for many.

This plan also alleviates privacy concerns students have voiced. Currently, if students are on their parents’ insurance and a claim is submitted (by any health care provider), the family is notified by the insurance company of services billed through a type of receipt called an Explanation of Benefits. Under the new model, services delivered at Gannett such as tests for sexually transmitted infections are covered without needing to file an insurance claim, improving student confidentially.

We plan to form a health fee advisory committee that will include students, faculty and administrators.  The committee will function much like the Student Insurance Advisory Committee does for the insurance plan, providing guidance to balance needs and costs each year.

It is our responsibility to work together, to make sure everyone in our community who needs help gets it. That is a burden, and a benefit, we all share. Some of you may have preferred one of the alternatives I mentioned, but others would decry those choices just as vigorously. In the end, we made a decision that is consistent with Cornell’s values and meets our responsibility to our campus and surrounding community.

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Syl Kacapyr