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MIT Pays For Grad Insurance

By Kathy Dobson

STAFF REPORTER

Graduate students supported by research and teaching assistantships will receive a full subsidy for their health insurance cost in the 2004-2005 academic year, Provost Robert A. Brown announced last week.

The subsidy provides graduate students supported by assistantships full health coverage with MIT’s individual extended hospital insurance, which costs $1,440 for the 2003-2004 academic year. This will result in an approximately 8 percent increase in disposable income for most affected students. Students that are not supported by the Institute will see no change in their insurance costs, and families will only see a partial reduction.

Dean for Graduate Students Isaac M. Colbert said that the insurance subsidy is a result of the work of many groups, including “the entire senior structure of the Institute” and the Graduate Student Council. Both groups were “concerned about the quality of [graduate students’] lives.”

R. Erich Caulfield G, the president of the GSC, said “graduate students are feeling the pinch,” and this is one of the many initiatives that the GSC is making in order to relieve the financial strain on graduate students.

Faculty, institute to absorb cost

The majority of the cost of the health insurance subsidy will be absorbed by the faculty and the Institute. According to the GSC newsletter, next year, the faculty will pay 55 percent -- rather than the previously planned 50 percent -- of the tuition for graduate students with research assistantships. In exchange for the increased tuition coverage, the Institute will cover the health insurance expenses of all students with assistantships.

The effect of the cost of the subsidy to the Institute and faculty is unclear. Brown said that he anticipates a growth in research money to cover the additional cost of graduate students, but added that he does not expect the growth to be spread evenly across the departments. Brown said that the Institute is trying to give departments “as much lead time as possible on changes in rate structures,” in order to allow the departments to make adjustments in the number of students they admit.

According to the GSC newsletter, departments will have the option of varying stipend levels between -10 percent and +15 percent, although the institute has recommended no change to the stipend level.

Arthur C. Smith, professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science said, “I don’t think [the health insurance subsidy] is going to have a major effect” on the number of graduate students the EECS department admits in the future. Although they finished admissions before learning about the policy, “it would not have had an impact” on the number of students they admitted, Smith said. They admitted 173 out of 2,475 applicants, seven more than the department was aiming for, he said.

Family insurance reduced

Health insurance costs for families will be reduced, but not fully eliminated, by the new plan. Families will see a deduction in their insurance rates equal to the amount an individual student would pay. For example, using the rates from the 2003-2004 academic year, students with families would have about a $1440 deduction in the family’s insurance rate. The current rates are $2,688 for a student and children, $4,992 for a student and spouse, and $6,240 for a student, spouse, and children.

Brown said that he is “very concerned about the cost of health care [for] students with partners and with children,” but, he added, there is “no current plan to differentially subsidize that group.”

Colbert said that helping families is “on our agenda,” and the current plan is just a start.

Caulfield said that the GSC plans to continue working with MIT Medical to find ways to help families.

Subsidy propelled by rate hike

Colbert said that the health insurance subsidy was “certainly on my agenda for a long time,” but that last year’s 60 percent increase in MIT’s Extended Hospital Insurance rates “gave extra emergency in the discussion.”

Caulfield said that the GSC began looking at specific solutions to the rising costs of health insurance in fall of 2003. He said the GSC looked at many options, including increasing the stipend of graduate students and a partial or full health insurance subsidy.

The full subsidy costs the faculty less money than a stipend increase of the same magnitude would because the standard 60 percent Facilities and Administrative overhead on stipends does not apply to the insurance subsidy.

Subsidy part of larger effort

The health insurance subsidy is one of the many changes being made by the institute to reduce the cost of living for graduate students. Another change being implemented next year is a reduction in the rise of on-campus rents, now increasing 3.7 percent compared with the planned 5.2 percent.

Although the health insurance subsidy is only guaranteed for next year, “I don’t think that students should expect to pay health insurance again,” Caulfield said. But, he added, “everything is in the realm of possibility.”

Brown said that he “expects, except for a large change that can’t be anticipated, this plan will continue.”

COLAB instrumental in change

Caulfield said that the GSC cost of living advisory board, a group made up of administrators and the GSC, has been instrumental in passing the health insurance subsidy and reducing the rise in rent rates. COLAB was formed last July in order to address the rising cost of living for graduate students at MIT.

Both the students and administrators are pleased with the health insurance subsidy. “I think it’s really a wonderful change. It signals our support [for] students,” Colbert said.

Caulfield said that he is “very happy that the institute has recognized this need for graduate students and made this very important step towards improving graduate student life, but there is still work to be done.”