REXBURG — Brigham Young University-Idaho students can no longer use Medicaid as an acceptable alternative to the student health plan, and university officials refuse to say why.
Students learned about the change this month when registering for classes. BYU-Idaho, which is owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, requires students to either have adequate health coverage or participate in the Student Health Plan. Until now, Medicaid has been considered sufficient coverage.
“When my husband first told me about the school denying his initial waiver, which had his Idaho Medicaid information, I thought he misunderstood what the person at the Health Center told him,” Jessica Whetten told the student newspaper Scroll. “I didn’t believe it. I was a bit livid.”
Most colleges and universities require students to have health insurance. A student health plan costs $536 per semester for an individual and $2,130 for a family. Many attending BYU-Idaho qualify for Medicaid. With the large student population, the poverty rate in Rexburg is 41.6%, with the median household income being $26,341, according to DataUSA.
Many students are frustrated with the decision and said they’re equally upset that the university will not explain why Medicaid is no longer accepted. BYU-Idaho refused to comment to EastIdahoNews.com. spokesman Brett Crandall said the university will not be issuing any public statements about the change.
“BYU-Idaho NEEDS to answer for this. Why are you making us buy insurance that has terrible coverage? Do they realize that this could screw up Medicaid for the people that have it because they will process the BYU-I health plan first and not give you full coverage? This is outrageous and unacceptable. Reverse the policy,” Connor Pack wrote on the Scroll Facebook page.
Some students on social media said when they contacted the Student Health Center about the change, staff said the decision was made by the Church Board of Education in Salt Lake City to no longer accept Medicaid. A church spokesman referred requests for comment back to BYU-Idaho. In contrast, in a tweet Tuesday from BYU in Provo (also owned by the church), the Utah university said it still considers Medicaid acceptable.
“This is official: There is no change. Medicaid and Medicare will continue to meet the health coverage requirement here in Provo,” the BYU tweet says.
More than 230,000 Idahoans were enrolled in Medicaid as of August, according to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare estimates an additional 91,000 Idahoans will become eligible for Medicaid on Jan 1, after voters approved expanding the program’s coverage in November 2018 to those within 100 to 138 percent of the federal poverty level.
Jeremy J. Gugino, a spokesman for Reclaim Idaho, the group that fought to expand Medicaid in Idaho, tells EastIdahoNews.com it is hoping the university explains its actions.
“We’ve heard from a lot of families and volunteers in Madison County who are concerned about this news,” Gugino said. “Reclaim Idaho is aware that thousands of BYU-Idaho students benefit from Medicaid and Medicaid expansion. We are very interested in finding out why the university is making this decision. The stakes are too high for too many families.”
Editor’s note: Eric Grossarth, one of the authors of this story, also works for the Scroll.