A revision to Columbia’s health policy this year could potentially leave many students without insurance coverage for abortion—a change that has the Columbia Democrats up in arms.
Last year, abortions were covered by the Columbia Health Program fee, which all students are required to pay. This year, abortion and three other previously covered services became components of the Columbia Student Medical Insurance Plan and thus are no longer covered by the required fee, leaving students who remain on their parents’ or their own insurance policies without guaranteed coverage for those services. (Students are not required to purchase the Columbia plan if their parents’ health plans meet certain requirements, but coverage for abortion is not one of those stipulations.)
The change was not widely publicized, so when Zoe Ridolfi-Starr, CC ’15 and CU Dems’ lead activist, came across the revised policy, she set out for an explanation from administrators—and was disappointed that they were not as alarmed as she was.
“They’re not really feeling pressured or that this is an urgent need for students … even though they know what a vulnerable position that is for young women who have to make that choice,” said Ridolfi-Starr, who is leading discussions for CU Dems about potential alternate funding options for student abortions.
Administrators from Health Services initially deferred comment to Senior Executive Vice President Robert Kasdin, who in turn deferred comment back to Health Services. Health Services did not respond to further repeated requests for comment.
Ridolfi-Starr said she and CU Dems are particularly concerned because the required fee used to cover confidential abortions.
“If you can’t talk to your parents about that, then you’re in a very challenging position, one that could affect your mental health but also your ability to be a student, and one that Columbia should be very, very concerned about,” Ridolfi-Starr said.
The Student Health Insurance Plan brochure says that the fee was reduced from $900 last year to $824 this year because it no longer covers elective termination of pregnancy, off-campus mental health emergencies, outpatient treatment for chemical abuse, and treatment of accidental injury or medical emergencies.
The notice comes on the 17th page of the 101-page brochure, available online, which CU Dems members said was unacceptable notification.
“This used to be a guarantee that all students had … and Columbia has taken that away, both without sufficient notification to the students who are going to be affected and without implementing any formal guarantee,” said Austin Heyroth, CC ’15 and CU Dems media director.
Club members had been trying to contact administrators for over a month before they were able to speak with someone who was “in the know” about the change, Heyroth said, and once they did, they were disappointed in the response.
“They knew that it was going to have a huge financial impact on students for whom this did become an issue,” Ridolfi-Starr said. “And their plan was to Google a list of people in New York who would give abortions and tell students to go out into the city and fend for themselves.”
Ridolfi-Starr and Heyroth said that administrators reportedly told them that moving the four services, including abortion, out from the required fee was in line with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
Ridolfi-Starr said that the CU Dems plan on reaching out to women-, gender-, and queer-related clubs and progressive activist groups such as Law Students for Reproductive Justice and Radical College Undergraduates Not Tolerating Sexism.
She said one possible solution would be to create an “access fund” to pay for abortions—a pool of money similar to a grant that could cover medically necessary abortions.
At least one campus group is in support of Health Services’ change. Nathan Grubb, SEAS ’13 and webmaster of Columbia Right to Life, said the club had not been aware of the policy change when asked by a reporter, but would support it.
“Subsidizing something that is unhealthy and that is a bad choice—it’s the same thing as subsidizing cigarettes,” Grubb said. “We believe that there are better choices that the administration could support.”