Reconsidering the Student Health Insurance Plan


Between teaching section, working in high-powered laboratories, and writing dissertations on everything from wood chip mulches to pavement performance in crosswalk designs, many graduate students at Harvard struggle to make Harvard’s Student Health Insurance Plan meet their health needs. In particular, caps on specialist and mental health consultations from outside providers force some students — admittedly less than one percent — to choose between high out-of-pocket payments and foregoing individualized medical care.

Healthcare, particularly on Harvard’s campus for those enrolled in SHIP, can be incredibly challenging to navigate. In particular, forcing students to choose between important medical procedures or face massive out of pocket costs is deeply troubling. We have previously opined, with regard to healthcare at the undergraduate level, that the University, through Harvard University Health Services, should reflect on the healthcare knowledge of the students it covers — both in terms of specific coverage as well as broader principles of personal health management.

If you’re not well-versed in the world of healthcare benefits, you might not know that Harvard’s health insurance program is different, in that it is self-funded. As such, it avoids subjection to the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, which requires insurers to provide equal mental and physical health benefits.

So while SHIP may be legally compliant, Harvard still must consider whether its coverage model can be considered to be ethical. M. Susan Ridgely, a senior health policy researcher at the RAND Corporation, has agreed that while legal, SHIP raises ethical questions about what it should achieve with regard to coverage. We share Ridgely’s suspicion.


Graduate students provide so much to our campus, not least in their contributions to research and instruction, that we believe it is in everyone’s best interests if they can perform their work as unimpeded as possible by burdensome healthcare and financial concerns. We hope that the ongoing negotiations between Harvard and the University’s graduate student union prove fruitful in this regard. Both sides must work for a fair and equitable agreement regarding SHIP that protects the health of grad students on our campus without putting them under undue financial stress.

Most policymakers would agree that our healthcare system is far from perfect. Healthcare outcomes in America lag significantly behind those in other similarly developed nations even as the US spends much more as a percentage of gross domestic product. A lack of broad and inclusive coverage as well as navigational guidance is one big reason why.

Harvard should be at the forefront of answering these questions, not lagging behind its peer institutions on student coverage and ease-of-use. As the union negotiations continue, Harvard should take a moment to reconsider and hopefully revise its policies. How can Harvard lead the way in healthcare innovation — not least at its renowned school of public health — if it doesn’t first take care of the students who make that intellectual work possible?

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.