Even before students returned to campus, Barnard’s Student Government Association was meeting with campus administrators to help dozens of students who were at risk of not being able to move in.
In August, 47 students were notified that their health plans were denied coverage and that their accounts would be on hold, preventing them from moving into their dormitories and registering for classes.
Since last September, Barnard has allowed students to opt out of paying for Barnard’s Aetna student health insurance and instead use personal health insurance plans.
In accordance with the changed health plan policy, this summer Barnard audited student health coverage to make sure the personal plans of students fell within Barnard’s parameters for adequate health insurance coverage.
Mary Joan Murphy, Barnard’s executive director of student health and wellness programs, said in an email that Barnard notified students of the new process last spring via email—including the deadlines and consequences of not adhering to the policy—and placed an additional reminder in tuition bills.
“The waiving forms from last year to this year were the same,” she said. “The change this year was that we had an auditor check to confirm coverage and parameters of the coverage once the information was entered, to make sure it met our standards. We did not have the audit last year.”
Lily Fishman, BC ’16, had her personal health plan denied twice, and eventually had to buy Barnard’s insurance plan in order to resolve the hold on her account.
She explained that her current provider—Blue Cross Blue Shield—only covers care beyond the emergency room in New England, so she couldn’t waive out of Barnard insurance because primary care wouldn’t be able to refer her to other doctors on her own insurance.
Maddy Popkin, BC ’14 and SGA president, noticed posts on Facebook about students having their accounts on hold and decided to look into the issue.
She first went to Barnard’s Residential Life and Housing Office to address the most immediate problem of students at risk of not being able to move back to campus, but was told to meet with Health Services instead.
Popkin, who is also a Barnard Well Woman peer educator, met with Murphy on Aug. 23 to discuss the cause for the account holds. She then posted a summary of the meeting on Barnard SGA’s Facebook page to help clarify Barnard’s insurance policies.
“It’s not that it was such a huge issue, but it’s a consequence of Barnard changing their insurance policies, and it’s really hard to communicate about insurance to the student body,” Popkin said. “We were trying to get at the systemic root of the problem. Though it wasn’t the majority of the campus who had the problem, the people who are affected by it obviously still matter and it’s a big deal not being able to move in.”
Fishman said she appreciated SGA’s efforts.
“SGA’s information helped me a lot personally, and the reps I spoke to and what I read on Facebook helped me sort out my trouble,” Fishman said.
“It’s an immediate fix and we wanted to prevent it from happening next year and work with health services to improve communication,” Popkin said.
She said that improving communication with students and administrators is at the top of her agenda and hopes that SGA’s web site, which was relaunched over the summer, will start more conversations with students online.
“We are interested in having an interactive space where students can have conversations,” Popkin said, adding that SGA is considering including a discussion board or a Q&A feature.
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that students could opt-out of Barnard's insurance since last January; the policy began last September. Spectator regrets the error.