Support student health service fee increase

by Staff

Stacey Oparnica, Staff Columnist

I hate fee increases just as much as the next broke college student. Financial aid has become my college security blanket, and every time I hear the word “budget,” I die a little inside. However, it’s impossible not to hear about how the school is struggling immensely at the financial level. Instead of running in all directions away from the money collector, it’s a good idea to understand what exactly is in jeopardy, how our support can improve the situation and why our resistance to help would further worsen already dire circumstances.

I’m talking about the proposed $65 fee increase for Student Health Services, which would be added onto the $85 fee we currently pay in our registration costs, making spring of next year’s health services fee a total of $150. Fortunately, because financial aid covers mandatory school fees, many will not even notice the increase. Still, the rest of us will.

While I understand paying for tuition and books has run our wallets fairly dry, blindly rejecting every increase proposal without informing ourselves about its objective is irresponsible and regressive. Every department on campus has felt the strain of this financial crisis and SHS has not been spared. However, SHS is unique for several reasons.  For one, it’s a program that is collectively benefited from. Just last year, students made more than 50,000 office visits to SHS for high-quality, low-cost medical care. Secondly, SHS relies almost entirely on our student fees. With these fees, SHS has sufficed in the past, but recent reductions in enrollment and increased expenses have led to severe financial instability. Financial reserves, which are running low, have kept SHS from increasing fees for the past eight years, but severe circumstances call for desperate measures and in this case, it’s a fee increase.

According to an analysis by the Campus Fee Advisory Committee, SHS needs $65 per student in order “… to sustain the current level of basic health care and medical services.” Realistically, for the amount students currently pay each semester, we are legitimately getting more than our money’s worth. Note the fact that while the average doctor’s visit for primary care is around $100, SHS provides unlimited medical services all semester long for $85, or what will be $150. Take Family Pact for example, a program that offers STD and HIV testing, birth control, pap smears, emergency contraceptives and pregnancy testing at no additional cost to the student.

Urgent care is also a top priority. According to Thomas E. Wilson, interim director of SHS, “In 2009 to 2010 alone, 12 students were transported to emergency rooms for life-threatening reasons.” In addition, we all remember just last year, in the midst of the H1N1 epidemic, students relied on the free vaccinations SHS provided as an effective method of prevention. This is health services at its finest — when medical attention comes affordably, quickly and effectively for students.

During a time when SHS is expecting a $2.5 million deficit, it baffles me how reluctant some students are to support this department in a time of severe financial need.

I fully understand everyone’s pockets are hurting right now, but we are the ones who will suffer if this fee increase proposal does not get passed. The results would be devastating for students and would include reduced hours for SHS staff, first

come first serve basis for appointments, increased costs for services and pharmaceuticals, likely elimination of specialty clinics and the layoffs of doctors and nurses. The analysis concluded the fee will produce almost $4 million annually, $2.5 million of which will be allocated toward overcoming anticipated annual losses, with the rest of the money going toward “emerging mental health care expansion in services.” With the flu and whooping cough on the rise, the fact you can depend on SHS to provide vaccines and information proves how much students actually benefit from this program. In a rare role-reversal, it’s time for us to care for SHS for a change.

—Stacey Oparnica is a journalism sophomore.

—The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Daily Aztec.

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