Organizations on and off campus strive to provide students with free or low-cost health care services, such as vaccines, contraceptives, and consultations.
With the University of Minnesota Boynton Health’s 11 on-campus clinics, nearby medical facilities, and ongoing advocacy by student groups around improving accessibility to healthcare at the University, students have now with a variety of health care options.
Faced with multiple options, however, students expressed confusion about which accessible or affordable services best meet their needs.
“A lot of that [confusion] comes from the fact that only people don’t know what’s on offer and the system is very confusing as it is,” said Amanda Ichel, director of the Minnesota Student Association (MSA) health and wellness committee and a student from second year.
Through Boynton, anyone affiliated with the University can access a variety of clinics, including students, faculty, and staff.
The primary care clinic, eye clinic, Gopher Quick clinic, gender care clinic, travel clinic and emergency care are available on campus, according to Maurice Perkins, director of marketing and communications at Boynton. .
Mental health services such as free counseling are offered exclusively to students and are not available to faculty and staff.
One of the goals of the MSA Health and Wellness Committee is to advocate for improved accessibility to health care on campus by increasing funding for mental health services and increasing the number of free counseling sessions, Ichel said.
“It was one of our main objectives to increase the quality and duration of [mental health] care you can get,” Ichel said. “Recently, we’ve been focused on hiring more therapists and some psychiatrists.”
During the pandemic, the MSA said the University implemented the Student Service Fee Freeze, which ensured that the Student Service Fee would not increase. The freeze has caused a barrier to increased funding for mental health services since a significant portion of Boynton’s funding comes from student service fees, according to Ichel.
According to Dave Golden, director of public health and communications at Boynton Health, student service fees have been frozen for fiscal year 2021 to reduce the financial burden of the pandemic on students. Originally, there was to be a 2.38% increase in student service fees per semester, which would have allowed for increased funding for mental health services; after the onset of the pandemic, however, the University decided to freeze tuition fees and student service fees for 2021.
The Student Services Fee funds all services offered to students at the university, including Boynton, the Aurora Center, Student Legal Services, and the RecWell.
Golden said the student service fee is essential to providing students with accessible health care through Boynton Health because it ensures that students are offered care for little or no cost, even if the The student’s insurance does not cover the service.
Health care services provided by Boynton are first billed to the student’s insurance, according to Golden. If an insurance company does not cover the cost of the service, the student service fee will cover what is not paid by the insurance company.
Care not covered by the student service fee includes prescription drugs or medical supplies, according to Perkins.
Student groups such as Students for Reproductive Freedom, MSA, and Boynton officials through the Student Health Advisory Committee have worked together to address issues related to accessible health care on campus. This led to the establishment of the emergency contraceptive vending machine at Coffman Union.
This vending machine makes Plan B accessible for around $20, which is cheaper compared to the over-the-counter cost, which is closer to $50. MSA hopes this type of service will expand to improve healthcare accessibility, Ichel said.
Another step to improve access to health care is that Boynton hopes to be able to offer COVID-19 reminders to students in the coming weeks, Perkins said.
Outside of Boynton, another affordable option for reproductive health care is available near campus on University Avenue, the First Care Pregnancy Center. At the center, students can get free pregnancy tests, ultrasounds and free STI testing and treatment, said the center’s director of client care, Amanda Salmon. She added that the service most frequently used by university students is free STI testing.
“We just want students to know we’re here,” Salmon said. “We are always looking for ways to spread the word.”
Editor’s note: The First Care Pregnancy Center, mentioned in the article, does not offer abortion services or referrals.