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Letter to the Editor: ASU graduate student workers need comprehensive health care

Graduate student workers with the United Campus Workers union at ASU advocate for more accessible and affordable health care

Letter to the editor graphic

"Dear State Press, you've got mail." Illustration published on Friday, March 3, 2017.  

If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s that access to health care is a matter of life and death. Accessible and affordable health care doesn’t just mean available hospital beds in moments of crisis; it means having access to comprehensive mental health services at no cost, vision, hearing and dental coverage, maternity leave, alternative health care and elective abortion coverage. It also means extending this coverage to our families.  

These are basic provisions that aren’t available to student workers at ASU. As graduate students and members of the United Campus Workers union, we write this letter in order to articulate our health care needs. These needs aren’t new but were only further exacerbated during the pandemic. Our hope in writing this letter is for ASU to help relieve the physical, mental and financial burden placed on all student workers seeking care.  

These health care needs should be covered by the insurance benefits offered to graduate teaching assistants and research assistants. Our teeth and eyes are not accessories; and therefore, vision and dental care should not be seen as optional. Many of us earn less than $20,000 a year, which makes this critical care a luxury we cannot afford.  

In the School of Earth and Space Exploration, one-third of graduate students surveyed by the school’s Graduate Council reported that they have been unable to or nearly unable to pay their living expenses during their studies, with nearly half reporting that they have been unable to seek medical or dental treatment due to financial concerns. Students should not be forced to choose between paying rent or getting a cavity filled.

Although it was hardly publicized, ASU waived the usual $15 copay for five 50-minute counseling sessions each semester for students during the 2020-2021 school year. While we commend ASU for taking this temporary measure, we believe it should be made permanent and expanded to include greater investment in staff and resources. 

Having a five-session limit means that most students are referred out for counseling, assuming a greater financial burden. If students are lucky enough to find a counselor within Aetna’s network, the insurance provided by ASU, they are expected to pay a $20-$25 copay each session. However, many students are unable to find a suitable counselor outside of ASU and, thus, end up paying entirely out of pocket. 

ASU leaves us without any support or guarantee of finding continued care, which is especially important for neurodivergent people and other individuals who need complex care and guidance through that process. ASU students and employees need long-term, free mental health services with trauma-informed and culturally competent counselors. 

We joined the United Campus Workers union to fight for what we deserve — that ASU meets our basic needs through comprehensive, affordable health care that is accessible to all student workers. There is no "back to normal" for us this fall because normal wasn’t working in the first place. ASU must provide comprehensive and accessible health care as we return to campus this fall and into the future.


United Campus Workers union at ASU

Kelly Baur, Oscar Mancinas, Ian James and Justine Hecht 

Editor’s Note: The opinions presented in this letter to the editor are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors. This letter to the editor was submitted by the United Campus Workers union at ASU.

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