Teachers and students, prepare yourselves, for it’s just about that time again. You all know what I mean — the sniffling, the sneezing, the coughing, the general yuckiness. For those of you thinking, “Cold and flu season has been here for months,” you’re correct, but that’s not what I’m referencing. I’m actually speaking about midterms, and more specifically the environment that we take them in.

Nothing is more detrimental to test-taking than an illness (well, other than not studying). Quite honestly, I’d rather take a test while sick than take a test while sitting next to someone who is sick. When you are the sick one, you can prepare and fight through it, even though you probably shouldn’t. If you’re healthy and those around you are sick, though, it’s like being the only sober person in a bar. Neither of these options is productive to getting the best results from a student.

It’s fair to say that if a student is constantly sniffling and frequently exiting the classroom to use the bathroom, they should probably be at home resting, not sitting in a packed room furiously scribbling answers to a test. Most students simply have no choice regarding a make-up exam. Legitimate Bigfoot sightings are more common than valid excuses for rescheduling a midterm. Even without delving too deeply into the quagmire that is national university testing, I feel confident stating that the University has the power to make a difference in test results, simply by changing the student healthcare system. For whatever reasons, it chooses not to.

I’m aware that currently enrolled students get access to the University Health System, which is great. However, the list of free services reads like it was picked off of a numbered list selected via darts thrown at a board. Clinical visits, emergency eye care, radiology and lab tests are all covered. While these are important services, here’s a list of specifically excluded items that the health service fee students pay does not cover: immunizations, medications and tuberculosis screening. Is tuberculosis so prevalent in American society that we need to specifically exclude it, lest we break the UHS bank?

The issue here is that the problems facing the vast majority of students are going to be rather benign. Most students are going to go in for a cold, perhaps the flu. And yet, the UHS excluded list specifically mentions medications and vaccines, and it is clearly making them money. For example, it’s $48 for a flu shot, but if you’re patient and wait for the mobile clinic, you can get it for $25. The shot costs, at most, $19.13. Adding insult to injury, University staff gets a free flu shot every year, but students have to pay $25 to receive one. The cynic in me assumes that the excluded list was generated by merely listing the most commonly needed services in order to generate more profits. The non-cynic in me responded to my interview of myself request with “no comment.” Perhaps I’d be less likely to feel this way if the University wasn’t acting like a for-profit corporation, and more like a publicly funded university.

If you haven’t visited Livonia lately, I suggest you go check out the new University of Michigan health care plaza. It’s really a sight to behold. The transformation of the 7 Mile and Haggerty Road corner from a wooded lot to the rolling hills, ponds and fountains that exist now is a testament to modern terraforming techniques. It’s much nicer than their the Livonia Health Center a few miles down the road, just south of 8 Mile on Farmington Road. It’s nicer than the University’s Canton Health Center, too. Additionally, the University of Michigan Health System is gobbling up hospital systems left and right, with the latest attempt being Allegiance Health in Jackson. About the only health system that the UMHS hasn’t looked into buying is the UHS itself.

Unfortunately for students, UHS isn’t affiliated with the University of Michigan suite of hospitals. Why separate the two services? It seems like there’s a redundancy in maintaining a doctor’s office on campus separate from the hospital on campus. Have you been to the hospital on campus? I’m pretty sure it’s missing only one or two chain restaurants to be considered a mall.

When UMHS decides to act like a not-for-profit, the results are fantastic. Its signature MSupport program is a healthcare service for low-income individuals. It’s primarily a grant-based program, and it helps quite a few people in need. My mom had it for a while, about two years ago. Ironically enough, she got accepted so she could get routine eye care (a specifically excluded UHS item). Until she was removed from the program last year, she actually had better health care services from the University than I did while I was a paying student.

As a not-for-profit entity, administering aid to students seems like a no-brainer, something that the system was designed to do. Instead, students are forced to navigate the UHS and private systems to get basic medical goods and services, like flu vaccines and eye exams. The sole reason we’re here, to get a decent education, is entirely superseded by the fact that we have to endure learning under some of the most personally horrible conditions. Being sick in class is just not necessary, especially when we have the means to correct it. It’s time the University got with the program and extended MSupport to all students on campus.

Eric Kukielka can be reached at ekuk@umich.edu.

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