Samuel Ruiz and Esther Spencer Rivas: BYU-Idaho students thankful for Medicaid reversal

(Trent Nelson | Tribune file photo) BYU-Idaho in Rexburg, Idaho.

Students throughout the BYU-Idaho community had something extra to be grateful for this Thanksgiving.

BYU-Idaho recently reinstated Medicaid as an acceptable form of insurance for students, allowing thousands of us to breathe a sigh of relief. This decision came just two weeks after BYU-Idaho’s initial policy change that left the student body reeling.

Students at BYU-Idaho — like our peers at many other institutions — are required to have health insurance in order to enroll in classes. However, BYU-Idaho recently decided to reject Medicaid as a student health care option, despite accepting it for years. This sudden decision was a shock to thousands of BYU-Idaho students, many of whom have families who rely on Medicaid. Given that our next semester starts on Jan. 8, too many students were living on borrowed time to find an acceptable health care option. The stories of students considering dropping out because of the university’s decision were heart-breaking.

Without Medicaid, many students would have been forced to pay for the BYU-Idaho student health plan. While that plan is fine if you have the flu or a sprained ankle, it is substandard for serious health care problems. Then there is the cost: $536 for individuals per semester and $2,130 for families. Many students don’t have that kind of money, especially for a health care plan that provides very little health care.

That is why we are so thankful the university is reversing its decision and allowing students to enroll in Medicaid again. It was a dicey two weeks for thousands of BYU-Idaho students, but ultimately the administration made the morally right decision. The news could not have come at a better time.

The university’s initial decision met with negative reaction throughout Idaho and Utah. It even made national news. As BYU-Idaho students who love our school, we take no pride in this negative publicity. We hope those same outlets report on BYU-Idaho’s decision to reverse its policy. We applaud the school for reconsidering its decision and doing what is right for this community.

We further applaud them for the thoughtful and humble way they chose to announce the policy reversal; citing the importance of “the well-being of our students and their families,” thanking the local community for its feedback and apologizing for the “turmoil” caused by the previous policy. We want all the administrators at BYU-Idaho to know how much we appreciate the choice they made to listen and respond to the concerns of the community and student body.

We are also thankful for all of the people who supported the BYU-Idaho student body throughout this ordeal. We thank the 12,000 people who signed our petition, and the thoughtful and honest members of local and national press who helped us share our stories. We offer special thanks to all the students and concerned allies who organized online through the “Accept Medicaid BYU-I” Facebook group and the Progressive Student Society of Rexburg for raising their voices.

While so many people disagreed with the administration’s initial decision, we are proud to say that we lodged our protests in a respectful and civil manner. We’d like to think that played at least a part in the university reversing course. The loudest voice in the room is not always the most effective one.

Finally, we are thankful that things can (hopefully) get back to normal on campus. The last couple of weeks have been an emotional roller coaster. We are thrilled that fellow students won’t be forced to leave school because of a health care issue. We value the BYU-Idaho community and want to see it thrive.

As we move towards the remaining portion of 2019 and onto a new year, we will not forget our miracle, nor the power of change through collective action. The fact that change happened in a respectful and dignified manner, let alone in a span of less than three weeks, speaks volumes to what BYU-Idaho students are capable of.

We started this movement with love and we’ll end it with love. We love our school not just because of the education we get, but because of the people who make up BYU-Idaho. We are a people who will do what is right and fight for those that need to be uplifted.

No matter how alone one feels, you can know you’re a part of one big family here at BYU-Idaho. And like any other loving family, we’ll have your back no matter how complicated the issue is. That’s something to be thankful for every day.

Sam Ruiz

Esther Spencer Rivas

Samuel Ruiz and Esther Spencer Rivas are students at Brigham Young University-Idaho.