MU to provide grad student health benefits despite new law

2 years 11 months 3 weeks ago Friday, August 21 2015 Aug 21, 2015 Friday, August 21, 2015 12:37:00 PM CDT August 21, 2015 in News
By: James Packard, KOMU 8 Digital Producer

COLUMBIA - The University of Missouri announced Friday it would provide health insurance to grad students, despite a new federal law limiting such benefits.

Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin said on his website MU would defer implementation of its decision to end health insurance and would instead pay for the insurance for eligible students.

Loftin said the decision came after conversations with external experts and university leadership, coupled with consultation of other universities.

The university would continue its previous health insurance policy in order to allow time to better understand regulations from the Affordable Care Act, according to Loftin. The deferment would also allow the university to consider the best implementation of new federal guidelines. 

MU previously said the IRS would penalize the university $100 per day for every student it gave subsidies to, citing a provision within the Affordable Care Act that prevents employers from giving employees money to pay for health insurance. 

The university said the IRS considers graduate students employees rather than students because they provide research and teaching services as part of their studies.

Earlier Friday, Sen. Claire McCaskill called on the University of Missouri and federal officials to resolve the issues with the health insurance coverage. Friday afternoon, she released a statement after a solution was reached.

"As a proud Mizzou alum, I'm pleased the university was able to act quickly to correct this mistake and ensure that their graduate students will continue to have access to quality, affordable health insurance," McCaskill said. "However it's clear from the confusion over the last few days that a long-term policy is needed to provide certainty to these students."

Students said earlier in the week they were angry the university waited weeks to announce the changes and said they thought the university wasn't doing enough to address the issue.

In response to student backlash, MU offered graduate students a one-time fellowship of $1,200 for the fall semester to help offset health insurance costs but said it did not have a long-term solution to provide the rest of the $3,000 it previously offered.

The Forum on Graduate Rights wrote a letter to university leadership, dated Aug. 18, demanding health insurance coverage, as well as a number of other minimums, which Loftin said Friday leadership had discussed.

Students that were members of the Forum on Graduate Rights group on Facebook planned a walk-out day Aug. 26 in response to stripped health care benefits. 

Loftin previously announced the creation of a task force, headed by Dean Kris Hagglund, to find long-term solutions for grad students. 

"As a research university, MU places extraordinary value on graduate student contributions to our scholarly and campus community. We are committed to being a place where graduate students thrive as they earn their degrees," Loftin said on his website.

Loftin also said the Office of Graduate Studies would expand the charge and membership of its task force on the graduate experience, in order to address students' concerns.

[Editor's note: This story has been updated to include the information and statement from Sen. Claire McCaskill.]

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