Health Insurance Changes for Graduate Student Employees

Starting in the fall 2021 semester, the university is changing the default insurance option for benefits-eligible academic employees (TAs, AIs and GRAs) from UT Select to Academic Blue, while providing the flexibility to still choose UT Select. Below, you will find information regarding the purpose of this change, the impact on students’ expenses and coverage quality and useful resources.

The Human Resources website has up-to-date information on plan details and insurance options for graduate students, including an FAQ page.

Purpose of Changes

The decision to use Academic Blue as the default health plan for academic employees is to improve access and continuity to health care for graduate students. The decision was driven by the recommendations of the Graduate Education Task Force, who, after extensive outreach to graduate students across campus to understand student experiences with UT Select, identified a number problems with using UT Select as the default provider of insurance for academic employees. These include graduate students experiencing loss of coverage and gaps in coverage, mid-year reset deductibles, and lack of affordable dependent care and dental and vision plans.

Coverage Quality

UT Select and Academic Blue both provide quality health insurance and are both rated gold-level plans according to the Affordable Care Act. There are differences between the plans—the two plans are designed for different age groups and needs—and there are many ways in which Academic Blue provides better access to care at lower costs. For example, students on Academic Blue have the same network of providers as UT Select, and students on Academic Blue may access many services by University Health Services with no out-of-pocket costs or co-pays (unlike students on UT Select). These services include primary care and general office visits, annual physicals, physical therapy, radiology/x-rays and lab testing. Subscribers may also add dependents at significantly lower costs and, unlike students on UT Select, use the state’s premium-sharing contribution to receive free dental and vision care.

Review the comparison chart for a side-by-side comparison of the cost of care and premium costs. The plan year for both plans is September 1 – August 31. 

Some individuals have pointed out that premiums for Academic Blue are less expensive than UT Select. This is not indicative of lower quality—rather, it primarily reflects that the two plans cover very different pools of individuals. UT Select has a greater number of older adults and retirees in its pool who utilize more services, care and prescriptions, while Academic Blue has a pool of younger, generally healthier individuals—leading to lower premium costs.

Out-of-Pocket Costs

The university expects that the majority of students will have lower out-of-pocket expenses under the Academic Blue plan. Nevertheless, we have determined that a small percentage of the overall benefits-eligible, graduate student population could experience increases in out-of-pocket costs under the Academic Blue plan. The impact of this change will vary based upon utilization and students’ specific healthcare needs. Some students whose conditions require diagnostic imaging may have higher out-of-pocket costs under Academic Blue than they do under UT Select. Others, whose conditions require visits to their mental health provider, may experience lower out-of-pocket costs. Please refer to this comparison sheet for a look at the differences in copays, coinsurance, and deductibles based on particular services.

The Graduate School and Human Resources have been identifying ways to mitigate potential increases for students. Students who experience a significant increase in cost may be eligible for an assistance fund that the Graduate School is developing leading up to the fall semester. More information about the fund, including eligibility criteria and application instructions, will be provided in the coming months.

Taxes

Unlike the university’s premium support for UT Select, the premium support of Academic Blue is considered a taxable benefit. The taxable amount of the premium support that students will face will vary greatly on students’ individual circumstances. Payroll Services estimates that most graduate students will be enrolled in subscriber-only plans and will face a monthly deduction of $29.27. We encourage you to review the scenarios on the Payroll Service website to determine which will most likely apply to your situation.

Premium Support

Effective September 1, 2021, UT will provide all eligible academic graduate student employees with 100% premium support for Academic Blue and provide 50% premium support for dependent coverage on Academic Blue.

Premium sharing for UTT Select will be based upon scheduled weekly hours.  Part-time AGS employees (20-29 hours per week) will receive 50% premium sharing for UT Select and 25% premium sharing for dependent coverage. Full-time employees (30 or more hours per week) will receive 100% premium sharing for UT Select and 50% premium sharing for dependent coverage.

Please use this premium comparison chart to assess premiums based on plan, scheduled weekly hours, and dependents.