Cornell students erupt over health care fee

Students at vaunted Cornell University are plenty smart enough to know they should not have to pay a penalty for not buying the school's health insurance if they already have coverage, but that's exactly what a new policy at the Ivy League school requires.

The $350 "health fee" for opting out of the school’s insurance plan was announced in a memo school President David Skorton posted on Cornell’s website last week, according to higher education blog The College Fix. But it is just setting in with the student body, and many attending the Ithaca, N.Y., school are not pleased. Under the Affordable Care Act, students must have insurance, but making those already covered pay an extra fee to skip the school's plan is not sitting well.

“Effective next academic year, 2015-16, we will be introducing a student health fee for those not enrolled in the Cornell Student Health Insurance Plan (SHIP),” read the memo. “As a physician, parent and president, I am proud of our university's long history of providing quality medical, mental health, education and prevention services on campus. These essential services play a critical role in student well-being and, therefore, success. Yet funding these services — and creating access to them for all students — has been a growing fiscal challenge, and a personal concern of mine.”

The announcement sent students into a fervor, leading to a series of rallies on campus and hashtag activism, with #FightTheFee trending on the social media website.

Students who do not opt in to the $2,352 per year plan must pay the $350 fee, which “most likely” won’t be covered by financial aid, according to campus newspaper The Cornell Review. The newspaper also said the university plan is run through Aetna, whose CEO, Mark Bertolini, is a Cornell MBA grad. In addition the fee, students will have to pay a $10 co-pay fee when visiting the school’s health center.

The recent announcements prompted 150 students to storm the school’s main administrative building as well as Skorton’s office. Reports from the review suggest that the president had gotten into several “testy exchanges” with several students regarding their issue with the new policy.

Despite heavy opposition from the student body, it appears that Cornell is doubling down on the new policy. Cornell Vice President for Student and Academic Services Susan Murphy said in her own statement on Wednesday that “the fee is necessary to create a sustainable model for health services while also increasing accessibility and protecting student privacy.

“It is our responsibility to work together, to make sure everyone in our community who needs help gets it. That is a burden, and a benefit, we all share,” She said.