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ABOUT

Welcome!  The Graduate and Professional Association (GPSA) advocates for students at the university, state and federal level.  Our Vice President of Legislative Affairs (VPLA) and Legislative Committee spearhead efforts to increase political awareness and engagement among students while lobbying administrators and legislators for a more affordable and accessible education experience for all graduate and professional students.

 

2016-2017 Legislative Agenda

Important: Feds grant extension for subsidized graduate student health insurance

*updated 12/1/16*

The Future of Graduate Student Health Insurance: A Town Hall

Previous to the recent Department of Labor decision, GPSA and WSU administrators held a town hall meeting to discuss graduate student health insurance. In February 2016, the IRS had ruled that universities could not continue to offer subsidized health insurance (see below for more information).  This Town Hall was meant to elucidate how WSU would have moved forward were this not overturned on the federal level.

IRS INTERPRETATION OF ACA AFFECTING GRADUATE STUDENT HEALTH INSURANCE

*Update 10/21/2016* 

On October 21st, the U.S. Department of Labor released a guidance extending subsidized student health insurance coverage indefinitely.  This is the best possible temporary solution, and will allow universities to continue providing subsidized health insurance to graduate students.  However, this is not a permanent solution.  Graduate students and administration must continue to press the federal government for a permanent decision (in our favor).  

"Accordingly, pending further guidance, the Departments consider it appropriate to further extend the enforcement relief provided in the February 5, 2016 guidance and will not assert that a premium reduction arrangement offered by an institution of higher education fails to satisfy PHS Act section 2711 or 2713 if the arrangement is offered in connection with student health coverage (insured or self-insured)."

See the full guidance here: https://www.cms.gov/CCIIO/Resources/Fact-Sheets-and-FAQs/Downloads/ACA-FAQ-Set-33-Final.pdf

 

 

Summary

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) along with the Departments of Treasury, Labor, and Health and Human Services (HHS) released a legal guidance that prohibits universities from providing subsidized student health insurance plans (SHIPs) after the 2016-2017 academic year.  This rule will cost universities millions of dollars and/or leave thousands of graduate students across the country without affordable, university-provided health insurance.  GPSA and WSU administration are advocating at the federal level to have this guidance overturned.  In the event this does not occur, GPSA is urging WSU administration to find a way to continue offering health insurance to graduate students.

If you have health insurance through WSU right now, you will continue to have it until August 15th, 2017.  

The problem

Many, if not most, graduate students across the country are offered health insurance through subsidized student health insurance plans (SHIPs) by their universities, wherein most or all of the premium is covered by the university (at no tax expense to the university) so that students can reasonably afford coverage. However, following the passage of Affordable Care Act, the IRS has released guidance, once in 2013 and again in February 2016, stating that this practice violates the ACA because (1) HHS defines student health insurance as individual health insurance and (2) the IRS/Treasury considers graduate assistants who are paid for their services are employees, not students.  Therefore they must be provided employer-based, rather than student, insurance. The IRS has granted universities a pass for this academic year, but will heavily penalize universities ($100 per student, per day) who don't comply with their interpretation of the ACA beginning in the 2017-2018 academic year. However, most universities will begin considering bids from insurance agencies for the 2017-2018 academic year at the beginning of the Spring 2017 Semester, so this issue is of pressing concern right now.  

The options to deal with this problem are limited.  The most preferable option is to affect a regulatory change on the federal level, thus allowing universities to continue offering SHIPs.  Should this not occur in the next few months, universities (including WSU) can deal with this problem in several less-than-ideal ways:

1) Leave graduate assistants to deal with purchasing their own insurance (without WSU aid) from the Washington state health exchange (most grad students make so little that they qualify for Medicaid/Apple Health.  However, there are few providers in Pullman that accept this insurance).  Other exchange insurance can be very pricey.

2) Increase assistantship stipends (this raise cannot currently be enforced on the WSU department level, and may push students into a tax bracket too high to obtain Medicaid/Apple Health)

3) Put students on an employee plan (that would likely cost students several hundreds/thousands of dollars per year and would cost WSU several million dollars extra per year).  

How does this impact students at WSU?

At WSU, this will affect any graduate student on an assistantship (SHIPs are offered as part of your assistantship package), as well as international students.  This will have little to no impact on domestic professional students (e.g. VetMed).

WSU requires that international graduate AND professional students be part of the SHIP while enrolled at WSU.  Like domestic students, most international students obtain this insurance through an assistantship.  Those who do not have an assistantship must purchase their own from WSU.  Under this current federal guidance, international students, like domestic students, would see their insurance costs increase significantly.

The bottom line is that this rule will cost universities millions of dollars and/or leave thousands of graduate students across the country without affordable, university-provided health insurance.

For this reason, a number of US Senators have cosigned a letter addressed to the Department of Labor, HHS, and the Treasury encouraging these departments to alter their official interpretation of the ACA in regard to graduate students. Several higher education coalitions recently sent another letter to the aforementioned departments

What decisions are being made at WSU?  How has GPSA been involved?

GPSA will update this section as the situation evolves and more information becomes available

*Updated 9/15/16*

WSU

GPSA has not yet heard of an official decision regarding graduate student health insurance at WSU. GPSA has had two meetings regarding this matter: one with President Schulz and one with Dean Andrefsky of the Graduate School. It is our understanding that the WSU administration does not want to leave us “high and dry,” and is currently crunching numbers to see if WSU can afford to adopt graduate students into an employee plan.  A lack of affordable healthcare options would impede WSU's ability to attract high quality graduate students, so WSU has a vested interest in finding an acceptable solution.  Both President Schulz and Dean Andrefsky will be making trips to Washington, D.C. over the next month. 

Federal

GPSA recently completed an advocacy trip to Washington D.C.  While there, we secured meetings with most of our Washington Congressional Delegation, the House of Representatives Committee on Education and the Workforce, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions, as well as twelve representatives from the Department of Treasury, Department of Labor, Department of Health and Human Services, and IRS.  

Potential solutions on the federal level:

1) Ask our members of Congress to put pressure on those Departments to ask for another extension.  This is the most viable route right now.  Asking for an extension for universities is an easier sell, is less of a partisan issue, and might be done more immediately (which we continue to advocate for a permanent, satisfactory solution).  Members of the Washington Congressional Delegation have expressed willingness in writing letters/making phone-calls to the Departments.  GPSA is currently working on a letter-writing campaign to encourage all of Washington State's Congressional offices to do so.  We are also joined in our efforts by other graduate student associations across the country through the National Association of Graduate-Professional Students.

2) Convince the Departments of Treasury/IRS, Labor, HHS to issue a final guidance in favor of SHIPs.  The likelihood of this happening in the near future is very low.  GPSA was also told that such a guidance would probably NOT be in favor of SHIPs.  However, IRS guidances do not have the sticking power of a piece of legislation, so it could be overturned with:

3) Legislation from Congress that would require that all agencies/departments follow the original language in the ACA the specifically allows universities to provide SHIPs (The IRS Guidance is a strange, and contradictory, interpretation of the ACA).

GPSA will continue to advocate for affordable, quality health insurance at both the university and federal levels.  GPSA's leadership is composed of graduate students who also stand to lose health insurance, so we personally understand your concerns on this issue. 

WE NEED YOU!  WRITE/CALL YOUR MEMBERS OF CONGRESS AND WSU ADMINISTRATION AND TELL THEM HOW LOSING HEALTH INSURANCE WOULD AFFECT YOU AND YOUR GRADUATE STUDIES

 

Contact the GPSA Vice President of Legislative Affairs at gpsa.vpla@wsu.edu for more information and/or help sharing your story

 

EVENTS

Please check back periodically for updated events

  • WSU College Republicans/WSU Young Democrats Debate
    • Moderated by GPSA's VPLA!
      • October 12th, 5pm-7pm in Butch's Den
  • Call/Message Congress Days
    • Fall 2016 Message Congress Day: Wednesday, October 12th
    • Fall 2016 Call Congress Day: Wednesday, November 16th
      • ​GPSA will be hosting a phone bank with snacks for Call Congress Day (CUB 308).  This is your chance to remind your legislators of graduate and professional student needs.  Our VPLA and Legislative Commitee will be around to help!

PARTNERS

National Association of Graduate and Professional Students (NAGPS):  www.nagps.org

NAGPS is the graduate and professional student voice on a national level.  NAGPS hosts the biannual Legislative Action Days (LAD) summit in Washington D.C. where graduate and professional students from around the country have the opportunity to meet with their federal legislators about priority issues.  GPSA sends delegates to this summit each spring and fall.  

See the leave-behinds linked below for an overview of the priority issues for the Legislative Actions Days Summit held September 25-29th, 2015.

From left to right: 2016-2017 GPSA Vice President Brittany Wood, 2016-2017 GPSA Vice President of Legislative Affairs Katie Harris, Congresswoman Cathy McMorris-Rodgers, 2016-2017 GPSA President Melanie Thornton, and 2016-2017 GPSA Senator Jennifer Johnson

 

Washington Student Association (WSA):  http://www.wastudents.org/

The WSA is a student-led association of public higher education institution in the state of Washington.  The GPSA Director of Legislative Affairs is a voting member of the Board of Directors, which meets monthly.  

2015-2016 Washington Student Association Legislative Agenda

WSA Board Meeting

 

ISSUES

Federal

Student Loans & Interest Rates

Graduate and Professional students lost access to Direct Subsidized Federal Loans in 2011 (where the federal government pays accruing interest while you remain in school). The estimated cost to students is an additional $18 billion over the next 10 years1

Graduate and professional student loans are the safest investment of all student loans with a significantly lower default rate of 6.4% (the overall rate is 18.4%).  Though graduate and professional student loans comprise only 13% of all loans, 77% of the federal government’s net profit on student loans comes from graduate and professional student loans.  

Reunifying graduate and professional loan interest rates with undergraduate rates would result in thousands of dollars in savings over the life of a 10 year (120 month) loan. The chart below shows total 10 year loan costs at current and projected interest rates for direct unsubsidized federal loans disbursed in 2014-20152

  • For information on previous year interest rates and other types of loans, see: 

https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/types/loans/interest-rates#older-rates

  • For information on student loan repayment (including a repayment calculator) go to: 

https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/repay-loans

 

International Student Visas

International students comprise a significant part (~20%) of the graduate and professional student population.  For this reason, we strongly advocate for the domestic revalidation of F-1 student visas. International students should be able to leave the United States to present research or visit family without the fear that they will not receive another visa to re-enter the U.S. and complete their studies.  We hope that soon members of the U.S. House of Representatives will introduce a bill to make domestic revalidation possible.  You don't have to be a citizen of the United States to call members of congress and ask them to support this bill (we will keep you updated on when it is introduced).

For more information, please view the NAGPS' report on the F-1 visa situation: NAGPS_F1_Visa_Report

Are you an international student?  Have you or a friend had problems renewing a visa?

If so, contact Senator Patty Murray's office.  They perform casework on many issues, including those related to immigration.  With your permission, they can request information from federal agencies.  

More information can be found here: http://www.murray.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/mobile/requestassistance

 

State/University

Stipends

The GPSA recognizes high stipend variability across departments at WSU.   The average graduate student stipend does not meet the cost of living in Whitman County. Furthermore, graduate students on assistantship annually pay $1854.82 in fees.  This additional financial burden leaves many students just above the poverty threshold.

Tuition and Fees

At WSU, tuition is variable based on whether or not you have resident or non-resident status.  Between 40-50% of students receive an assistantship that comes with a tuition waiver. Professional students (e.g. VetMed, MBA) are rarely eligible for an assistantship/tuition waiver.

See the Graduate School's website for up-to-date tuition costs: https://gradschool.wsu.edu/cost-of-attendance/

Many students are responsible for paying for a subset of fees out of pocket.  The Building fee, and Services and Activities fee, are called "mandatory fees" that all students must pay.  The other fees have voted upon and approved by past students.  In reality, all these fees are mandatory.

In 2015, the GPSA worked with WSU administration to do away with a "residual tuition" charge that was leftover from an era of budget cuts.  This resulted in graduate and professional students paying $173.00 less a semester. 

 

2016-2017 Graduate Student Fees (for one semester)

 

OTHER

How to find and contact your legislators:

https://www.usa.gov/elected-officials

CONTACT US

Katie Harris, Vice President of Legislative Affairs

gpsa.vpla@wsu.edu