Now more than ever, it is vital that graduate students at UT Austin have access to continuous, affordable health coverage. A lack of health insurance can have great impact on students’ health, finances and wellbeing and on their academic and career success.
With this in mind, we are writing to announce health insurance changes for benefits-eligible graduate student academic employees (TAs, AIs and GRAs). Starting in the fall 2021 semester, the university is changing the default insurance option for benefits-eligible academic employees from UT Select to Academic Blue, while providing the flexibility to still choose UT Select.
These changes are in response to recommendations from the Graduate Education Task Force, a group of faculty and staff members and graduate students charged with examining graduate education at the university and providing strategic recommendations for improvements. In its final report, the task force determined that one of the biggest issues facing graduate students is access to continuous, affordable health care.
Specifically, many graduate students experience the following issues:
- Lack of continuous, year-round coverage. During their studies, students may be self-funded, employed as TAs, AIs or GRAs, or supported by fellowships. As they transition between appointments, students often experience loss-of-coverage or gaps in coverage as their eligibility status changes for the UT employee health insurance plan, UT Select.
- Reset deductibles. Students transitioning between UT Select and other health plans mid-year experience reset deductibles, resulting in additional costs for care and prescriptions.
- Expensive dependent coverage and dental and vision coverage. While subscriber premiums are fully paid for students eligible for UT Select, students with spouses and dependents face significant costs to add family members. Additionally, students on UT Select must pay the full premium cost for dental and vision coverage.
In response to these issues, the task force made the following recommendations to improve graduate student health insurance:
Work with UT System to create a health care plan specifically for graduate students that maintains coverage year-round, while still giving students the option of UT Select staff/employee insurance. Within this system, provide affordable options for students not employed by UT during the summer to continue coverage without gaps during that time; allow students who are enrolled but not employed by UT to buy into the graduate student health care system at reasonable cost; provide the option of dependent care, vision, and dental coverage at a reasonable cost.
Since the task force issued this report in January of 2020, the Graduate School has been working with the Graduate Student Assembly (GSA), Human Resources (HR) and other campus partners to implement the recommendations for a new health care solution for graduate students.
Starting September 2021, graduate students with benefits-eligible academic employment of 20-29 hours per week will be automatically enrolled in Academic Blue with 100% premium support provided by the university. Academic Blue provides affordable, quality coverage that meets or exceeds a gold-level of coverage according to the Affordable Care Act.
Enrollment in Academic Blue enables students to maintain continuity of coverage for the duration of their studies, regardless of their status as fellows, employees or self-supported students, and avoid reset deductibles that occurred during transitions between UT Select and Academic Blue.
Additionally, benefits-eligible academic employees enrolled in Academic Blue will now have access to vision and dental coverage at no premium cost.
Students enrolled in Academic Blue have access to many services provided by University Health Services (UHS)—including primary care, general medicine and preventative services—that are covered at 100% without copays. Academic Blue is administered by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas and has the same provider network as UT Select, so students currently on UT Select can maintain access to their providers. Also, Academic Blue provides spouse and child coverage that is more affordable than UT Select.
Academic Blue is also available to students without academic employment or academic employment that is below 20 hours per week. For these students, the full premium for Academic Blue is affordable. Students without employment may also choose to visit HealthCare.gov to explore insurance options in the federal healthcare marketplace.
Graduate students with benefits-eligible academic employment of 20-29 hours per week may still choose UT Select. However, beginning in September, they will be required to pay 50% of their premium sharing. This is in-line with other part-time UT employees—such as part-time staff and faculty members—who pay 50% of the premium sharing.
Graduate students with benefits-eligible academic employment of 30 hours or more per week (which is considered full-time employment for insurance benefits) will be automatically enrolled in UT Select at no premium cost. However, these students may choose to enroll instead in Academic Blue with 100% premium support provided by the university for continuity of coverage and free access to vision and dental coverage.
We recommend that you research the two plans to make the choice that is best for you and your health needs. While both Academic Blue and UT Select are gold-level plans, in some cases there are differences related to copayments, deductibles and annual out-of-pocket maximums.
Human Resources has developed materials on its website—including additional information, chart comparisons and FAQs—to help you make your decision.