MU to stop health insurance subsidies for graduate students

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COLUMBIA - The University of Missouri announced Friday it will no longer be offering health insurance subsidies for graduate students.

MU said it can no longer pay for graduate students' health insurance because of changes in federal health care policy under the Affordable Health Care Act.

MU said it became aware of the policy three weeks ago after it sought outside legal counsel on subsidies on student health insurance.

The university said the subsidies it offers under the current plan are considered part of an 'individual-market plan' by the IRS rather than an 'employee-market plan' that covers MU employees.

MU said the IRS considers graduate students as employees of the university rather than students because they provide research and teaching assistance. The Affordable Care Act prohibits employers from giving employees money specifically to buy insurance under the individual market.

The university said it is working on providing alternative funding measures to offset the cost of insurance for graduate students. That includes a one-time fellowship for the fall semester of up to $1240 dollars for students who work 20 hours per week.

The university hasn't said what it intends to do when that fellowship ends.

Many graduate students said they are deeply upset about the announcement and said they wished MU would have notified them sooner.

"The university has eliminated my ability to function as a graduate student," said John Meador, a PhD student in the department of sociology. "They knew about it. I believe they could have warned us earlier."

Dozens of graduate students took to Twitter to criticize the university's handling of the matter.






Other graduate students said they are talking with each other looking to other schools facing similar issues in light of the loss of subsidized insurance.

 "We're trying to let our administrators know how big of an issue this is," said Kristofferson Culmer, the President of Graduate Professional Council at MU. "We're trying to reach out to students on the nationwide level to see what approaches have been done to fix this."

The university is prohibited from linking that funding with health insurance. Because of that, it is unable to ask students if they need health insurance.

The university said students can still sign up for Aetna's Student Insurance Plan or purchase a plan on the ACA marketplace.

If the university does not comply with ACA standards, it could be fined $100 per day per student by the IRS.

MU said it spent around $4 million on insurance subsidies for graduate students last year.

[Editor's note: This story has been updated to include the most recent information from MU and students]