I realize that this is a hot take, but throughout college, I’ve felt pretty satisfied with the health services—physical, sexual, and mental—that I’ve received at Barnard. Don’t get me wrong; like many of my peers, I’ve also felt how the stressful environment produced by our competitive student body, as well as our administration, can take a toll on my physical and mental states. However, I’ve personally found that my time at Barnard has been one of the few times in my life that I’ve even had the opportunity to access proper health care treatment.
I’m a recipient of Medicaid, the nation’s largest insurance program with 72.4 million people enrolled as of April 2019. For those of us who are familiar with the system, we’re well aware of the realities of growing up with shitty medical care. For those of you who aren’t, you probably think that it can’t possibly be that bad, right? But according to the New England Journal of Medicine in 2013, Medicaid had no significant improvements in health outcomes compared to being uninsured.
A large part of this is due to the lack of funding that the Medicaid program receives—which not only lowers the quality of treatment for recipients, but also includes lower reimbursement rates for providers. More often than not, this creates provider deserts for those enrolled in the program since professionals may not be as willing to see us. Because of this, there are long waits at some clinics that do accept Medicaid recipients.
I remember spending hours in waiting rooms just to see my doctor as a child. Though my family can technically afford to see a doctor with our insurance coverage, getting unexpectedly sick can be expensive for them. Seeing a doctor on a very busy day can cost my parents an entire day off of work. For people who work to make ends meet, this can make all the difference.
So you can only imagine my surprise when I got to college and witnessed what a difference being on the student insurance plan made. For many first-generation, low-income students, college may be the first place where psychological services, like therapy and psychiatry, are even available to us. And this isn’t just at Columbia and Barnard.
Through conversations with friends back home from different universities, all of us share feeling a necessity to take advantage of the services offered to us through our student insurance plans, especially therapy. When we go home, it can be extremely difficult for us to even try to seek mental health treatment, whether it’s for financial reasons or the fact that it may be taboo in our communities. The access itself is a barrier for FGLI students, where the freedom to use those services is another obstacle.
Since attending at Barnard, I’ve watched myself grow and work on myself through my relationship with my wonderful therapist and the help of prescribed medication. Without my Barnard insurance plan, I don’t think I would have been able to address my personal concerns, both related and unrelated to being a student, at this period of my life. After being diagnosed with some conditions, I’ve worked on destigmatizing my emotions and coming to terms with the fact that mental conditions are as valid and biological as any other health condition. Aside from the health plan, I have been fortunate enough that Barnard has been extremely supportive in providing the financial resources for services that my plan would otherwise not cover through programs instituted for low-income students. I realize that this is not the case for many students on campus who may not qualify for such programs.
Do I believe that our services are perfect? Of course not. I think that both Barnard and Columbia, separately and collectively, are still in dire need of reforming administrative support for students suffering from mental illnesses. Last December, Columbia scored a D grade for its leave of absence policies, according to a national report. There is so much more our administrations can and should do to aid students in all decisions and processes surrounding mental health. However, during the summer, I—as well as other students—spent our time struggling to continue our treatment because we couldn’t access those same services. I remember counting down the days for classes to start again so that I could receive another prescription.
I think that when we criticize or support institutions, it’s important to take a step back and think about how our experiences and backgrounds factor in constituting our opinions. Some students may immediately recognize how fractured Barnard and Columbia’s services are because they’ve been exposed to better services. And frankly, I might just be satisfied with the treatment I’ve received thus far because I don’t know better. I do, nonetheless, want to note that it is okay to demand more of our institutions in terms of health services.
My point is not to make it a matter of telling the unprivileged to stay complacent with what they have. Let’s continue having town halls and communicating with our administrators where they are failing us, but also recognizing the ways in which our experiences differ. Although some students can go home to better health treatment and overall care, some of us may have very little options, if any, to turn to at all.
Daphnie Ordoñez is a junior at Barnard studying political science. If you have any thoughts about this column, you can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Found in Translation runs alternate Tuesdays.
To respond to this column, or to submit an op-ed, contact email@example.com.