Dental and Vision Insurance

Almost four years ago, in May of 2013, the GPSA passed Resolution 19, Regarding Student Health Insurance Optional Dental Plan. The resolution included a spreadsheet comparing the actual cost of dental services in the Ithaca area with the coverage available under the insurance plan. Based on a review of available data for Zip code 14850, the GPSA review of our dental plan concluded

Having dental insurance provides only a marginal advantage, compared to not having insurance... The coverage available provides very little insulation from the large financial risk associated with major dental care expenses.
— “Comparison of Dental Costs and Coverage,” Cornell GPSA, May 2013

In other words, based on the data, it was unclear whether the dental plan offered to graduate workers had any value whatsoever. The plan also did not include any coverage—even as a percentage—of any major dental services, such as: root canals, wisdom tooth extraction, bridges, or crowns. Costs of these procedures can range into the thousands of dollars. The resolution also pointed out that the “dental plan offered to Cornell Staff & Faculty in the Endowed Colleges has both a lower premium and a higher maximum benefit, including some coverage for major dental work.”

Since 2013, reforms to the dental insurance program have been marginal. In 2016-2017, wisdom tooth extraction may be covered at 50% of the cost of the procedure. However, the maximum benefit allowed under the plan is only $750 which is far below the cost of wisdom tooth extractions and anesthesia. The SHIP Dental plan also requires an additional premium of $278 in order to participate. The program continues to provide far less coverage than all Cornell staff dental plans, carries a high premium & low maximum benefits, and lacks common-sense incentives such as the ability to roll over unused benefits from year to year (available on all Cornell staff programs).   

Grad workers who spend 5-7 years in a PhD program are thus at a significant risk of either financial difficulties in paying for dental care, or are forced to choose between quality dental care and financial security. Cornell grads have brought up the issue through the GPSA since 2013, and yet little progress has been made. Negotiating a union contract will allow us to use our collective leverage to bargain for a fair system of dental coverage for Cornell grad workers. 

Students seeking quality vision care face similar problems. The annual premium for the current plan is $142, which is about the same price you could expect to pay if you were to go out and look for a plan on your own. With the bargaining power and economy of scale that Cornell has, we should expect that plans offered to grads either be free or significantly below market rate.