[Parentsgroup-list] Difficulty affording healthcare for dependents

Adam Palmer palmer3 at fas.harvard.edu
Tue Sep 11 14:26:20 EDT 2012

Hi Finn,

I'm replying to your post about difficulty affording healthcare for
dependents. I am a G6 in Systems Biology, with two children aged 3
years, and 6 months, respectively. I have paid for the HUHS Student
Healthcare Plan for my spouse and my children, at great expense as you
note. For us, this was only possible because my wife and I worked for
~2 years between college and when I started graduate school, and saved
the vast majority of our incomes. Currently, our savings stand at
$20,000 less than they were when I started grad school, despite
acquiring an external scholarship for my studies, and I don't know how
grad school would have been possible without these savings. I suspect
that even in addition to this, my situation has not been as trying as
yours, because in my PhD Program a stipend is guaranteed without any
teaching requirements, and employment as a Teaching Fellow generates
additional income on top of my stipend. I have been a TF for two
courses to supplement our income, but always considering the trade-off
between earnings as a TF, and delays to graduation on account of time
spent teaching.

With great difficulty we have been able to acquire some financial
support from the MassHealth Premium Assistance Program, whereby we pay
for the HUHS Healthcare plan, report these expenses to MassHealth, and
they provide monthly checks to assist with a small fraction of this
expense. For us, getting into this system took more than 6 months of
constant communications with MassHealth (lots of time on hold) to have
the Premium Assistance commence, since they seem to regularly require
additional information, but do not endeavor to inform people that any
further information is required. Rather, no financial assistance
arrives after you expect it to, and then a series of phone calls is
needed to find out what they wanted. This process repeats for a while
before everything is in place. After one year, they request an annual
renewal form, and after posting that in, the support cuts off anyway
without explanation, and one embarks on another series of calls to
find out how to recommence support. I think that at best one can
expect support for 12 months out of every 18.

I understand HUHS charging students for a spouse's healthcare costs,
but there can be little doubt that the long-term financial stress of
children's healthcare is a major impediment to the academic progress
of PhD students in GSAS. I suspect that GSAS administration would
consider MassHealth-provided insurance (in contrast to the more
expensive option of seeking MassHealth Premium Assistance for the HUHS
plan) an acceptable alternative for the children of GSAS students;
perhaps without regard for the incredible difficulty of maintaining
support from MassHealth.

The situation would be very different if PhD students were 'benefits
eligible employees': Postdoctoral fellows can purchase HUHS healthcare
to cover their entire family for $200 per month. This classification
of PhD students will certainly not change; for my family our best hope
is for me to hurry up and graduate, and become a postdoctoral fellow.

Best wishes,

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