Article was updated with additional quotes from student activists.
The University Health Service at the University of Michigan is reversing its policy on billing students for sexually transmitted infection testing and sensitive testing through their insurance after receiving significant backlash from the campus community.
UHS and Michigan Medicine quietly introduced a new policy in July to bill a student’s insurance plan for laboratory testing — including STI testing — as well as radiology x-rays, ultrasounds and allergy injections. Previously, a mandatory $199 Health Service Fee paid by students through tuition covered these examinations. UHS said they implemented these changes “to keep the health service fee unchanged this year, despite significant increases in expenses, including providing greater financial support to other student life units.”
In an email to the University community, E. Royster Harper, vice president of Student Life, and UHS Executive Director Robert Ernst explained the change comes after students voiced their concerns regarding confidentiality and affordability of STI testing on campus under the new policy.
“You have helped us understand just how important it is to maintain confidentiality in this process all the way through how those tests are paid for,” the email reads. “We would never want the payment process for these important medical tests to stand in the way of any student accessing important medical services or testing.”
Students for Equitable Health Care at U-M created a petition Wednesday demanding the University reinstate its original policy, which covered STI testing as part of student tuition. There were more than 5,000 signatures at the time of publication of this article.
LSA senior Olivia Brickley, one of the founders of Students for Equitable Health Care at U-M, said the organization was created as a result of the elimination of STI and sensitive testing under UHS in July. The group wanted to focus “on giving students resources and finding affordable health care, specifically for LGBTQ and black communities,” Brickley said.
Brickley reflected on the importance of the decision for students who are often overlooked on campus.
“I am really glad the decision was made very promptly,” Brickley said. “Students voices really felt heard, especially students from marginalized communities.”
Students voiced concerns throughout the week that the change would disproportionately affect low-income students who may lack their own health insurance plan. Others noted parents might receive the bill for STI testing if students were still on their family’s insurance, which posed confidentiality concerns, especially for members of the LGBTQ+ community.
Public Policy junior Benjamin Gerstein, president of Central Student Government, and CSG Vice President Isabelle Blanchard, an LSA senior, applauded campus activists for spurring the policy change.
“We are proud of the many students and alumni who voiced their concerns and experiences to us, and more importantly, to the University administration and UHS,” Blanchard and Gerstein wrote to The Daily in an email. “The reversal of UHS's policy is a valuable reminder that our collective activism and advocacy allows for us to be a catalyst for change.”
Jeff Sorensen, a staff member at the University, was one of the advocates of the efforts. He explained that he helped support the students who organized and spread the petition.
“It was the students that made this happen,” Sorensen said. “I’m really proud of the work they put in with the help of their peers.”
University alum Hoai An Pham helped write and distribute the petition and explained how she believes students impacted the UHS policy change.
“I think this is a really clear example of how organizing works and also all the different tactics that were used were really unique to U-M,” Pham said. “People posting memes on the (University of Michigan) memes page, that kind of organizing is so unique.”