The BYU-Idaho administration dropped a bombshell on thousands of students and families last week. In just a few sentences, they turned the lives of countless families upside down by rejecting Medicaid and Medicaid Expansion as healthcare options for students. As you are reading this, students are living on borrowed time until next semester, wondering how to provide healthcare for ourselves and our families.
The nearly 20,000 students at BYU-Idaho must have health insurance in order to enroll. Until last week, Medicaid was an option for students to fulfill this requirement. Without any warning or explanation to anyone, the BYU-Idaho administration suddenly rejected Medicaid and Medicaid Expansion. Students are in shock. This policy goes into effect January 2020, giving us less than two months to figure out our healthcare situation for the new year.
Without Medicaid, students and families have few options. They can purchase private insurance or enroll in the university’s Student Health Plan. Students under the age of 26 may still be covered by their parents’ insurance, but BYU-Idaho has a sizeable number of “older” students who won’t have that option. Buying private insurance for a college student is no small feat. As any student knows — past or present — we pinch pennies anyway we can. For most students, especially those with disabilities or young families, private insurance is a financial impossibility.
The next option is BYU-Idaho’s Student Health Plan. That runs individual students $536 per semester. For families, it’s $2,130. The coverage is extremely minimal compared to Medicaid. Students can remain on Medicaid but they’ll still have to pay an extra $536-$2,130 for a campus health plan they will never use.
The final option for students who contract a major illness or injury is the local emergency room. When that happens, it’s not just a BYU-Idaho issue, it’s an Idaho issue.
You pay for emergency room care with local and state tax dollars when patients can’t afford the treatment. In essence, BYU-Idaho is creating its own little “second gap” of people you cover. Idaho voters already addressed that problem by approving Medicaid Expansion. But, for unexplained reasons, our administration is excluding us.
The administration’s policy is discriminatory on several levels. First, it penalizes poor students (we’re already poor, so this plan discriminates against the poorest of an already poor group) who cannot even afford the substandard coverage provided by the Student Health Plan.
Those with disabilities or chronic illnesses will not receive adequate treatment even if they can afford the fees. Given that BYU-Idaho has accepted Medicaid in the past, last week’s decision is a devastating blow.
Put yourselves in our shoes for a moment. If your healthcare provider called you today and said you had less than two months to find another healthcare option, what would you do? Could you afford to pay more money for similar or substandard healthcare? Probably not. About a third of Madison County lives in poverty. Would you drop out of school and sacrifice opportunities for family-supporting employment? You could, but you’d give up thousands of dollars in future income and risk your families’ security.
There are few options for students to express our concerns. The administration is directing us to the Student Health Center. Trouble is, they don’t know why this is happening either. Students have reached out to the directors of the Student Health Center, School Administrative leaders, even the Financial Aid Office, but all they can do is guess.
We love BYU-Idaho and we honor our faith. However, the arbitrary decisions made by the administration last week are morally and ethically wrong. As students of BYU-Idaho, we believe in the Church of Jesus Christ’s teaching to always be “honest in our dealings with our fellow men.” All we ask from our administrators is honesty and transparency.
Our student body is hard-working and ambitious. Medicaid and Medicaid Expansion are smart investments in our community which the administration is rejecting with no explanation. We humbly and respectfully request the administration reverse its harmful and punitive decisions and restore Medicaid as a healthcare option for BYU-Idaho students. We ask them to consider the harm this will cause to the school’s young students and families who are already sacrificing so much to attend this amazing university.
While we wait in good faith for the University to explain, students will continue to spread awareness about the ill effects of these decisions.
We humbly ask you to contact BYU-Idaho and join us in petitioning the administration to restore Medicaid. The stakes are too high for too many Idaho families for us to remain silent.
Samuel Ruiz and Esther Spencer Rivas are students at BYU-Idaho in Rexburg.