Updated, 1:10 a.m.
Columbia Health Services has established a fund to cover "special, time-sensitive healthcare needs," including abortion, in response to students' concerns that a change in the University's insurance policy this year leaves students without guaranteed coverage for abortion.
The new confidential discretionary fund will cover students when they choose not to avail themselves of their own plan for personal reasons, or when their plan does not cover the desired services, Health Services said in a statement released to Spectator on Monday.
Last year, abortions were covered by the required Columbia Health Program fee, which all students pay, as well as the Columbia Student Medical Insurance Plan. But this year, coverage for abortions and three other services were removed from the fee. That leaves students who opt out of the Columbia plan at risk of being without coverage if their own insurance does not cover abortions.
It is unclear what other procedures the fund would support. Health Services has not said exactly how much money will be available through the fund, or exactly where that money will come from, but only that it will not come from the mandatory health fees. More information would be available in one to two weeks, said Scott Wright, vice president of campus services.
Zoe Ridolfi-Starr, CC '15 and Columbia Democrats' lead activist, brought the issue to Health Services' attention on behalf of the Dems after she noticed that coverage for abortion services was not a required stipulation of the opt-out waiver.
The creation of the fund grew entirely out of student conversations, Columbia Health Assistant Vice President Samuel Seward said in an interview Monday. Ridolfi-Starr first brought up the issue to University President Lee Bollinger at his fireside chat on Oct. 2, and after Bwog and Spectator reported on the policy change, other students—with differing views on abortion—approached Seward with concerns about the policy.
Ridolfi-Starr said last week that the CU Dems took up the cause not only because of the loss of guaranteed abortion coverage, but in particular because that previous coverage under the Student Health Fee was confidential. The policy change has meant that students on a plan with their parents would be forced to notify their parents of their decision to have an abortion, Ridolfi-Starr said. (Health Services said that fewer than one-third of full-time students on the Morningside Heights campus opt out of the Columbia Health plan.)
Officials explained the rationale behind the change for the first time on Monday. According to Seward, the four emergency services would have classified the required fee as an insurance plan in its own right under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Health Services would have had to add even more services to the fee, ballooning the price tag by at least 60 percent this year, Seward said. Instead, they removed those services from coverage under the required fee.
Ridolfi-Starr said she was pleased with the speed of the administration's response, although she said she would need to see more details of the plan before she could determine whether it goes far enough in providing coverage.
"Should this program meet our needs, I'm actually pleasantly surprised," Ridolfi-Starr said. "I had been gearing up for a longer haul. It's refreshing, I think, to see the administration really respond to student concerns in an efficient way."
Julia Salazar, CC '13 and president of Columbia Right to Life, said her group had not been in contact with Health Services about the discretionary fund but supported the decision because the required fees would not support abortions. She called the discretionary fund a "really good solution."
"It also doesn't demand that every student in the Columbia community contribute to something that they may not be comfortable supporting, that may be a moral issue for them, as it would be for me," Salazar said.
Last week, Ridolfi-Starr criticized the administration for not publicizing the change enough. Wright said that while Health Services announced the terms of the policy at orientation events and on its website, it did not "send anything out to the community saying, You should go look for this information.'"
A section titled "What's New for 2012-2013" on the Health Services website notes that "Certain services formerly covered under the Columbia Health Fee will now be covered under the Columbia Student Medical Insurance Plan. As a result, the Columbia Health Fee for the 2012-2013 plan year will be $824 reduced from $900."
Seward said that he considered his office very receptive to students' input. "It became clear to us that students had a concern, and we hope this takes us a long way towards meeting that," he said.
Read Health Services' full statement at spc.me/healthservicesfund.
Updated, 1:10 a.m.