Vaden Health Center announced on Friday that premium rates for Cardinal Care will increase by 6% and premium rates for the Dependent Plan — which can cover students’ spouses and children — will stay the same for the 2020-21 academic year.
According to the Vaden announcement, enrollment in the Dependent Plan has decreased, which, along with lower utilization, helped maintain premium rates for the upcoming year.
“Fortunately, a trend in lower utilization over the current review period, coupled with a decrease in associated taxes, has had a favorable impact on renewal cost for 2020-2021,” the announcement reads. “In addition, as with the previous two years, subsidy funding from the university will again be available, allowing the premiums to remain status quo.”
With the rates unchanged, the monthly premium for a spouse will be $461.93, and the monthly premium for a spouse and multiple children will be $893.69. Without the University subsidy, the Dependent Plan premiums for 2020-21 for a spouse would be more than $800 per month, according to Student Affairs spokesperson Pat Harris.
The cost of dependent healthcare has been a focus of recent student activism. In November, graduate students met with Vice Provost for Graduate Education Stacey Bent, Vice Provost for Student Affairs Susie Brubaker-Cole and Associate Director of Vaden Health Center Leigh Stacy to push for dependent healthcare affordability.
Graduate students have organized protests, presented petitions calling for free dependent healthcare, launched a GoFundMe and shared personal stories, but it has been unclear what impact these actions could have on the plan’s rates. As recently as Feb. 14, when pressed by graduate students on rising healthcare costs, Bent said, “I don’t have anything specific for you.”
Maintaining the current rates halts a trend of rising healthcare costs. Since the 2013-14 academic year, Dependent Plan rates have increased by around 80%, including a hike of between 12% and 15%, depending on how many dependents a student has, last year alone.
Katherine Whatley, a first-year Ph.D. student in Japanese literature and a member of the Stanford Solidarity Network (SSN), said she was “disappointed” by the announcement. SSN has asked Stanford to create a $50 million endowment to make graduate healthcare free for children and spouses who do not receive healthcare through an employer.
“We’re asking for affordable healthcare that’s affordable in the stipend given,” Whatley said. “And this is not affordable, and rates have not decreased, but it’s also not the worst-case scenario.”
Whatley also said that dependent healthcare rates remaining unchanged is a sign that the administration is listening to the SSN’s efforts.
“If premium rates did not go up at all, either they were able to talk through plans really well or they are bearing the burden of the cost of the plan,” Whatley said. “Either way, it was spiraling out of control, and the fact that it didn’t increase at all is a sure sign that they are paying attention.”
Still, Whatley said she would like to see Stanford do more to make dependent healthcare more affordable.
The University will continue to work towards decreasing costs, according to Vaden.
“On a larger scale, the university continues its work to mitigate the serious affordability challenges facing many segments of the university community,” the announcement reads. “Identifying ways in which to navigate these challenges, which go well beyond health care costs, is a priority in the University’s Long-Range Planning initiatives.”
Asked about steps the University is taking to make the Dependent Plan more affordable, Harris wrote that “options include decreasing benefits offered by the plan, which could then result in increased out-of-pocket expenses (such as higher copays and deductibles) when the insurance benefits are utilized.”
“The Dependent Plan currently has Stanford Health Care and Palo Alto Medical Foundation in network, both of which are local and convenient to student families,” Harris added.
Whatley said one of the positive outcomes of SSN’s campaigning has been the Family Grant. That University program, which began two years ago, offers students with children up to $15,000 for healthcare, childcare and rent.
“Continuation of the Family Grant is currently being considered by the Affordability Task Force,” Harris wrote in an email to The Daily.
Cardinal Care is the annual health insurance plan for students. Monthly costs will come out to be $494 in 2020-21.
“Cardinal Care increased by 6% which is not an insignificant amount,” Whatley said. “These insurance plans are squeezing a lot of people on campus.”
According to Harris, rates are driven by the package of benefits offered, the network, utilization by enrollees, and other factors.
“The University negotiates aggressively with the insurance carrier to mitigate rate increases, but ultimately, the factors already mentioned, coupled with healthcare inflation, are the key determinants,” Harris wrote.