On July 11, the student body received an email from Dr. Ira Friedman, director of Vaden Health Center. In it, he informed the student body that the cost of Cardinal Care, the Stanford-operated health insurance plan, would shoot up 9 percent to an eye-watering $3,936 for the 2013-14 school year. For comparison, Cal charges undergraduates $2,014, Yale $2,040 and Harvard $3,148.
Squirreled away behind a link was yet more bad news: a doubling of out-of-pocket maximums, increased ER and prescription drug copays, and newly introduced complex radiology fees. In their justification, Vaden refers to recently passed health care reform (the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act or PPACA), complaining that “although PPACA implies cost savings, in reality, many of the mandated changes have imposed new costs, at least for the foreseeable future.”
While the PPACA may have increased Cardinal Care’s costs, it also aims to ensure that consumers are presented with insurance choices and are free to shop around for the plan that suits them. The PPACA does this by establishing statewide insurance exchanges, where consumers will be able to compare insurance plans side by side.
California’s health insurance exchange is scheduled to go live on Oct. 1.
Herein lies the rub.
Because the University’s Sept. 15 deadline for waiving Cardinal Care coverage requires students to opt out before Healthcare.gov allows us to shop around for alternative providers, Stanford students will have little to no choice but to accept Cardinal Care, and no opportunity to use PPACA to choose the best coverage plan for their individual needs. This means higher costs, higher deductibles and copays, and less choice.
In my capacity as an ASSU Senator, I have had multiple conversations with Vaden administrators, and specifically Dr. Friedman, on this topic, and their response is clear. Vaden categorically refuses to push back the waiver deadline on Cardinal Care from its current date of Sept. 15 to accommodate the launch of the exchange. This small gesture would have allowed students to use California’s health insurance exchange to help them find a plan that suits their own health needs, rather than being conscripted to an unnecessarily costly plan.
While this is remarkably inconvenient for those of us not fortunate enough to be covered by our parents’ insurance (particularly international students and graduate students, who also get the short end of the stick when it comes to financial aid), Vaden do not stop there.
For international students, Cardinal Care also has a complex waiver system, for which your insurance must match onerous University minimum requirements in order to opt out of Cardinal Care. This unequal treatment of international and domestic students makes no sense, especially considering that international students often have limited understanding of the behemoth that is health insurance in the U.S.
It is clear that it would be in the interest of student choice to present us with a list of individual plans that Vaden’s Insurance Office has accepted in the past which fulfill its requirements.
Nonetheless, Dr. Friedman disagrees. Apparently, this elementary act of transparency and promotion of student choice is “not professional” and “not in the interests of the student body.” When pressed, Friedman tells me that he doesn’t want to be seen as recommending certain plans over others – which is bloody preposterous, considering Vaden already collates lists of dentists and optometrists in the local area (yet another service not covered by Cardinal Care).
The fact that the concerns of the student body were being relayed to him by your elected representative, as well as in a petition signed by more than a hundred graduate students, did not seem to strike home.
It appears that Dr. Friedman is not interested in student choice, transparency or efficiency. His main task appears to be increasing the number of students stuck with Cardinal Care, whether it’s in their best interests or not. This is not acceptable for a University administrator whose paycheck comes from our pockets. I urge Dr. Friedman and Vaden health insurance administrators to find a way to allow students to take advantage of the California health care exchange that the PPACA provides. Furthermore, I ask Vaden’s insurance office to publish the names of insurance plans that fulfill Vaden’s waiver requirements, and inform incoming students of alternatives to Cardinal Care upon their acceptance to Stanford.
In addition, I’d like to ask for your help in collating a list of alternative insurance plans. If you’re currently waiving Cardinal Care for an individual insurance plan, send an email to email@example.com and it will be included on an “alternative health insurance plans” list on the Senate website. We’d also like to hear about your experiences with Cardinal Care and Vaden, both good and bad.
Together, perhaps we can get Vaden to work better for its students.
Ilya Mouzykantskii ’16, ASSU undergraduate senator