Read the full statement of the Columbia University College Democrats and our allies:
October 13, 2012
To Whom It May Concern:
This year, Columbia University chose to end a program that had provided complete and confidential coverage for students seeking abortions. The resulting gap in coverage is troubling and puts young women who are in a vulnerable situation even more at risk. The Columbia University College Democrats and our allies are pressuring the University to create a fund dedicated to internal financial protection for our student body. Though University administrators acknowledge that this protection is critical for student health, they have made no serious effort to work with us toward a solution. Columbia’s inaction leaves students vulnerable to extreme financial and personal burdens, ones that could dramatically affect their health, wellbeing, and ability to remain students at this institution.
Columbia previously covered abortion care under a program that the Health Services administration dubbed the “safety net.” The safety net worked to protect students from serious health risks, particularly those risks that are time-sensitive and might require confidentiality. Under new federal regulations, the structure of this “safety net” is no longer legally acceptable. But instead of working to find a new structure to match these new regulations, Columbia simply abandoned their commitment to protecting women’s health. Columbia health added 3 of the 4 services included in the safety net to both their health plan and their insurance waiver requirements. This means that all students are still protected in those areas. Coverage for abortion care, however, is conspicuously absent. (You can read the vague notice students received of this change here). Students who subscribe to the Columbia health plan are covered for abortion care, but those who are on their parents’ plans—a large segment of our student body—are not guaranteed coverage, and what coverage they do have will not be confidential.
It is likely that a substantial number of students are unaware that they have been stripped of this coverage, and will not be made aware unless they are faced with the crisis of an unplanned pregnancy. It is also likely that students who remain on outside plans are not covered for abortion services. Legislation at the federal level, like the Hyde amendment and parts of the Affordable Care Act, make it difficult for many plans to cover abortion care. State laws further impede coverage. In fact, 20 states have laws either restricting or prohibiting abortion care coverage, even in private plans. (Learn more.) This means that many in our student body will fall into this coverage gap created by the University, and will face this situation without any financial protection or support from our school community.
Columbia has stated that putting abortion coverage back into the Health Services Fee is not an option under new federal standards. We recognize that the legal situation has changed. But the needs of our student body have not: Columbia must develop a new internal program to guarantee the same (or greater) protections. If it was important to protect us then, it is important to protect us today—we need a solution, and we need it now.
According to the University’s own estimates, the total cost of providing complete coverage would be low, between $10,000 and $20,000 (including room for an increase in demand). Relative to the financial resources of this institution, this is a meager sum. But for the students who will now be forced to come up with $500, $900, even $1,500 out of their own pockets, that financial support could make an unimaginable difference. Peer institutions, like Harvard, provide this protection for their students. (Learn more.) Even Barnard, our sister school, provides partial coverage for students who are not on their plan—the kind of coverage Columbia insists is impossible. While partial coverage is unsatisfactory (and we advocate for a change there too), it demonstrates that a solution is possible. CU administrators repeat that there is no viable solution; that is simply untrue, and a weak excuse for this troubling gap in coverage.
This is not a political issue. This is a health issue. Some groups or individuals may choose to take a political angle or cite ideological reasons why this protection should no longer exist, but it is imperative that the University focus on student wellness and not permit groups to politicize a critical health service. Allowing political pressure to undermine student health is extremely irresponsible, and will result in serious health consequences for our student body.
As we continue to pressure the University on this issue, we are engaged in ongoing conversations with Columbia administrators. Though individuals have demonstrated varying levels of cooperation and concern not one has worked seriously or taken leadership to fill the gap in coverage. Every person insists that such a program must fall under someone else’s department, or repeats that it just doesn’t seem possible. More than two weeks after confronting President Bollinger directly, we have seen no progress toward a solution. As a whole, Columbia’s response has been evasive and inadequate.
The only message that we can take from this is that Columbia is not taking our health concerns seriously and does not care about protecting students. In fact, Columbia Health informed us that their only plan to fill this tremendous gap in coverage will be to Google a list of local women’s health centers and email this list to our doctors. That is not coverage. That is not care. And that is not acceptable.
We need the University to provide confidential, financial support for students, so that we can be protected in our most vulnerable moments. We advocate the creation of an access fund, administered internally, to ensure access to coverage for all students seeking medically necessary abortions. (Note: This fund does not need to be subsidized by student fees; the University has access to discretionary funds, which could be applied for this purpose. This would allow those who ideologically oppose abortions to remain uninvolved.) However, should the University propose an alternative arrangement that provides financial support and confidentiality for all students seeking abortion care, we would support a program structured differently but meeting these needs.
Where we once had a guarantee of safe, confidential protection, we now have a large and troubling gap. When faced with a difficult medical situation, we should be able to rely on our community here for support, like we once could. We urge the University either to propose a specific, viable program for protection or to work with us toward finding one. Until the University demonstrates the willingness and ability to do so, we will continue to advocate for student health and the coverage we need.
The Columbia University College Democrats
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