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Administrators look to publicize new emergency student health fund

After creating a supplemental student health fund last semester to address concerns over abortion funding, Health Services is now working to publicize the details of its new program.

After a change in the University’s insurance policy last semester left students without guaranteed coverage for abortion, Health Services created the fund for “special, time-sensitive health-care” services, such as abortions, emergency room-related services, STIs, and initial alcohol and drug treatment, according to Samuel Seward, assistant vice president of health services.

In the past, abortions were covered by the Columbia Health Program fee, which all students are required to pay, as well as the Columbia Student Medical Insurance Plan.

But last semester, coverage for abortions and three other services were removed from the fee, a change that left students who opt out of the Columbia insurance plan at risk of having to find their own abortions.

The new program, which is funded by discretionary money in the Health Services budget, allows students to request up to $750 of coverage a maximum of two times per academic year or three times during their time at Columbia.

Applications are reviewed by the Columbia Health Special Healthcare Needs Fund Committee, which comprises Director of Medical Services Brenda Aiken, Director of Counseling and Psychological Services Richard Eichler, and Chief of Administration Thomas Palatucci.

Zoe Ridolfi-Starr, CC ’15 and a lead activist for the Columbia University Democrats who lobbied successfully for the creation of the fund, said she was proud that the fund was created so quickly.

Still, she said that she finds the $750 cap worrying because “the average abortion is about $470, but they can go up to $3,000, $4,000 depending on how late in the pregnancy it occurs and depending on if there are additional risk factors that can quickly jack up the price.”

“That still leaves people in a position where they’re expected to come up with hundreds or thousands of dollars in cash,” she said.

The $750 coverage amount comes from a Health Services review of the average cost of each of the services that the former safety net covered, according to Seward.

“It’s not to suggest that it will be enough for every student, but I can tell you based on our initial experience, it has been an adequate amount,” Seward said. “And based on our overall sense of what these things cost, we think it’s a good amount.”

Seward said that students have already started using the supplemental health fund this semester, although he declined to provide a specific number due to privacy issues.

Ridolfi-Starr said that the Dems had been gearing up for a larger campaign to speak out against the administration’s decision to eliminate some coverages, but after the creation of the supplemental fund, their plans changed.

“They came up with a magical solution that is very well-structured to suit the concerns that we had, which is great,” she said.

Now, the Dems’ focus has turned to increasing publicity for the fund.

Ridolfi-Starr added that she hopes that RAs let their residents know about the fund because “a lot of students look to their RAs when they’re dealing with crises.”

In addition to placing information about the fund on the Health Services website and talking to administrators at Columbia College and the School of Engineering and Applied Science, Health Services informed the Student Health Advisory Committee about the fund and is working to inform more students, according to Seward.

Stefano Ciocca, GS ’13, said he is excited about the fund and believes that it is “good for the community to have healthy peers.”

Seward said that Health Services is still taking suggestions from the Dems.

“We really appreciate students’ concerns, and we’re delighted we were able to do something about it,” he said.

While she believes her work is not over, Ridolfi-Starr expressed relief that the health fund is now up and running.

“If something bad ever happens to me healthcare wise, and I need to get that emergency time-sensitive coverage that my insurance won’t cover, I’m taken care of,” she said. “Columbia has made arrangements, and I’m taken care of. That’s not something that I have to stay up at night worrying about.” | @ColumbiaSpec


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