The University’s policy on the Student Health Plan (SHP) and financial aid is indefensible. An article published over the summer by The Daily Princetonian details Nasir Ismael ‘21's decision to start a funding campaign in order to ensure the $1,800 fee for SHP would be covered, despite receiving a full financial aid package, because the SHP fee was not covered at the time of his financial aid package’s awarding. Although some could have mixed opinions about Nasir’s decision, the fact still exists that SHP grants are released after University grants. So, even though it may look as if one has the necessary funds to attend, that may not be the case. For the 60 percent of students who receive financial aid, this results in an all too common problem: a feeling of frustration, bordering on resentment, towards Princeton that’s amplified by socioeconomic disadvantage. To combat this, make the University more inclusive, and alleviate the discontent, we need to update the way financial aid works with SHP. The University should guarantee medical coverage for all students receiving financial aid.
Here’s the solution: those who receive financial aid, whether it be minimal or in full, would have their medical insurance automatically covered by Princeton if they chose to enroll in SHP. They would not see the $1,800 fee. By doing this, the University is partially curing the frustration mentioned above. It immensely eases the process for students, eliminating the entire SHP application process. In the current system, although it is likely that those who are socioeconomically disadvantaged will receive an insurance grant, it is not entirely confirmed — especially when the University believes one can pay for it when one really cannot — until later. For students who lived with tight budgets at home, but then given what they first thought were sufficient funds to attend a prestigious place like Princeton, this could feel like a familiar cycle. Automatically covering all SHP fees is vital if the University truly wishes to provide an all-encompassing aid package.
But it cannot stop there. The University must also guarantee coverage for a student’s medical expenses if they have the SHP. Last year, I got pneumonia, and despite having SHP insurance, I was charged about $2,000 for my hospital visit. Aetna, which is Princeton’s provider with SHP, expects a $200 deductible, along with 20 percent of the bills. So, even though it may appear as if a student is fully covered once enrolled in SHP, that is not the case. They must still pay a significant portion of medical bills, as financial aid packages do not adjust, and for those who are socioeconomically disadvantaged, this is almost always unfeasible. It definitely was for me. Although, ultimately, the University paid for my charges, it wasn’t until after a bureaucratic nightmare of searching for and exhausting emergency funds. If a student receives financial aid, and especially if it is full, then how can it be expected they pay for possibly thousands of dollars in medical expenses, especially if emergency funds do not go far enough? Therefore, covering the initial $1,800 SHP fee in order to battle the uncertainty associated with a lack of funds is not enough. All medical expenses must have guaranteed coverage.
Whichever way we choose to look at it, the University has the money to cover insurance and medical costs for students on financial aid. With an endowment of $22.153 billion, and 60 percent of 5,400 undergraduates on aid, it would only cost Princeton $5,832,000 to cover the SHP fee. Although this seems like an incredible amount, it is only 0.026 percent of the total endowment. Some will need more than the $1,800 because of things like hospital visits, but the total change to the endowment still will be minute. Furthermore, these calculations assume everyone on financial aid would enroll, which would probably not be the case.
Some may claim the proposed policy is not fair towards those who do not receive financial aid. Others may believe the solution to resolving the frustration is simply finalizing the financial aid packages sooner. First, there is a reason Princeton denies certain students grants: they can afford to attend in total. The frustration due to a lack of funds is absent because, theoretically, they have enough money. In fact, it is likely that they are already insured and can afford said insurance, given their socioeconomic class. If the medical coverage is interpreted as an extension of financial aid, then regardless of what it does, it would only affect those receiving monetary assistance by the University.
Second, I confirm that financial aid packages should be finalized sooner. Charges, like the summer savings contribution, need to be negotiated at the end of the school year prior to the year financial aid is released. Ideally, a finalized package for the next year would be released at the end of the current year, or very early into the summer. However, the SHP is a bit different in that it directly correlates with the physical well-being of a student. Also, medical charges cannot be predicted. Given the different nature of the insurance fee, and all subsequent ones that could follow, simply dictating sooner will not suffice. Princeton must cover the SHP fee for students on financial aid, in addition to all medical expenses that could follow.
The University has a debt-free promise, and it is not upholding it. Students on financial aid, and especially those who are severely socioeconomically disadvantaged, have found themselves in an ambiguous relationship with Princeton. If 100 percent of need is promised to be met, then why is it that SHP is not guaranteed? Why are students expected to possibly pay thousands of dollars in a medical emergency? This uncertainty of funds results in a worrisome frustration, resembling resentment, felt among those on financial aid, making what was once thought to be a light at the end of the tunnel in fact a train. I believe Nasir felt this before even starting at Princeton, which explains the donation page. It was an attempt to reroute an oncoming train. If socioeconomically disadvantaged students are truly welcomed institutionally at Princeton, then the first of many steps is to guarantee that all receiving financial aid are given insurance, in addition to complete coverage of medical charges, at no additional cost.
Mason Cox is a sophomore from Albany, Ore. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.