More than 100 international graduate students had their health insurance waivers canceled by the University of Maryland after they purchased plans from a private healthcare provider.
Full-time graduate students are automatically enrolled in this university’s Student Health Insurance Plan unless they sign a waiver proving they have other health insurance. Students who bought plans from International Student Health Insurance to avoid SHIP enrollment were informed on Sept. 12 that their plans were invalid.
After informing students about their invalid insurance coverage, the university extended the deadline to waive SHIP enrollment from Sept. 30 to Oct. 16, leaving many students with only a month to find a new healthcare provider.
Some international graduate students said they chose private insurance because it is cheaper than the $2,234 SHIP coverage offered by this university. Students enrolled in SHIP are required to pay the entire amount at the beginning of the year.
Robotics graduate student Tharun Puthanveettil said he purchased a plan from ISO because he thought SHIP coverage was expensive.
“They’re not giving a lot of options, it is one insurance for all,” Puthanveettil said. “Myself and a lot of other students … really wanted to consider any other alternatives which fall within the bounds of the university requirements.”
University Health Center director Spyridon Marinopoulos wrote in an email to international graduate students on Sept. 12 the waivers were canceled because of Affordable Care Act standards.
“International students who are planning to purchase health insurance should first make sure that the plan meets the Affordable Care Act (ACA) standards,” Marinopoulos wrote in the email. “However, the ISO plans do not meet this requirement.”
Some international students who purchased an ISO healthcare plan for the 2023-2024 academic year had their waivers initially approved by this university. Others were still waiting to hear back from the university when theirs were canceled.
Marinopoulos and Stephen Roth, the graduate school’s associate provost and dean, wrote in an email to international graduate students Sept. 18 that “it is unfortunate that some ISO plans were approved in error.”
Robotics graduate student Akash Parmar also purchased an ISO plan because of the lower cost.
“I thought that university insurance is really, really costly,” Parmar said. “I didn’t have to use the insurance in the first year. So I thought like, ‘Let’s go for the cheaper one.’”
This is the first academic year where graduate students were automatically enrolled in SHIP unless they submitted a waiver, according to Graduate Student Government president Autumn Perkey.
In past years, Perkey said all graduate students were expected to have health insurance but didn’t have to submit verification of coverage to avoid SHIP enrollment.
Saleel Anthrathodiyil, the GSG financial affairs and student fee matters vice president, said the issue is especially concerning because the majority of students impacted were international students who may not be well-versed in the United States’ health insurance system.
Neuroscience and cognitive science graduate student and GSG representative Rose Ying said the rollout of the policy requiring graduate students to submit a health insurance waiver was “extremely disorganized.”
“Someone who wasn’t in GSG and didn’t have a GSG rep would have no idea that this was coming,” said Ying, who helps organize for the Graduate Labor Union, a campus organization lobbying for collective bargaining rights for graduate students.
The Sept. 12 email from Marinopoulos to international graduate students said that confusion surrounding the ISO healthcare plan “has been exacerbated by the fact that ISO’s website incorrectly indicated that its plans satisfy UMD’s requirements.”
According to the email, ISO corrected its website and notified this university that it will refund insurance premiums for students who purchased insurance plans through ISO.
But some international students said they haven’t received their refund yet — including Puthanveettil, who said he’s been trying to follow up with ISO and said the refunds are coming in on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Parmar said he has also not received a refund despite reaching out to ISO multiple times, adding that students who had their waivers canceled are contending with a lot.
“I wasn’t affected as much but I can see, still, people in the group really troubled by it,” he said. “I would be devastated if it was my first semester and the situation happened to me. Because it’s not a small amount that you have to pay when you enroll in insurance.”