Applying to Wheaton was a difficult decision for me. Tuition costs were high and because of my parent’s income status, they could not guarantee they would be able to help me pay for my education. Fortunately, through Wheaton’s generous grant and other financial aid, I could make the decision to attend school here. Because I received healthcare through Indiana’s Medicaid program, I had limited coverage in the state of Illinois. I did not meet the school’s healthcare coverage standards, requiring me to enroll in the Wheaton Student Healthcare Insurance Plan (SHIP). This was fortunate because I lost coverage through Medicaid once I turned 19.
While the SHIP provided through Wheaton was significantly more expensive than Medicaid, it was cheaper than any other option available to me, and I was able to pay for it using my financial aid. This was vital to my ability to continue to afford tuition and living costs. During my first 3 years of school, I had several health concerns that required treatment through expensive medications only made affordable through insurance. While, fortunately, my mom got a job that provided healthcare benefits my junior year, I was disappointed and upset to hear the administration’s decision in response to the Supreme Court ruling this summer.
This decision affects a quarter of Wheaton’s students. That is 600 people that were left with only a couple of weeks to figure out how they were going to receive health benefits, with only a few online links and meetings provided in support by the school. While Wheaton is, for the most part, a community of students that come from relatively affluent backgrounds, it is likely that many of these 600 students were in situations similar to mine, and had to make difficult decisions about returning to Wheaton this Fall.
Wheaton is protesting the coverage of what they consider abortifacients. Regardless of debates about the moral right or wrong of such measures, Wheaton is missing the point. Coverage for this part of the plan would not come directly from the school, but rather from an outside party, (which is already how faculty and staff healthcare coverage of abortifacients is working currently, as the school is required by law to offer healthcare to its employees.) Any plan students will switch to will certainly cover arbortifacients. Wheaton College is not being required to fund abortion. Additionally, in correspondence with an administrator, I was informed that the school was planning on releasing information about a “benevolence fund” that would allow students affected by this decision to receive financial assistance in paying for healthcare that costs more than the SHIP. While this may help some, it has not even been put into action. Classes started over a week ago and no such information has been released. Tuition bills for students relying on this assistance are past due.*
The administration is denying students access to an affordable SHIP on the grounds that a plan associated with the school cannot cover arbortifacients. This is appalling considering the large number of students this decision affects, and the minute impact this decision actually has on Wheaton College—except in reputation, and potential alumni donations or outrage. I have greatly enjoyed my time here at Wheaton, and know that the administration cares about students and wants to do what is best for them. In this situation they are taking the wrong course of action. This decision is a purely symbolic gesture that carries little weight. Yes, now everyone knows where Wheaton College stands on Plan B. But they also know Wheaton College is willing to jeopardize the health of students and the ability of low-income students to remain at their institution—all in order to make a empty point. I am concerned that the school is more preoccupied with their reputation than the well-being of their students, and am disappointed in this institution that I have loved being a part of.
The discontinuation of a SHIP is not a demonstration of Wheaton’s stance on abortion, but rather a demonstration of Wheaton’s seeming lack of concern for the healthcare coverage of its students. Wheaton’s motto is “For Christ and His Kingdom”. What is being done to further the kingdom of Christ through this decision? All outsiders see is a Christian institution that is willing to sacrifice the well-being of students to make a symbolic point. Who does this benefit? This decision has a substantial, harmful effect on a quarter of the student body— a byproduct of catering to donors by solidifying Wheaton’s conservative reputation. Maybe increased alumni donations can go towards the healthcare benevolent fund. Unfortunately, I am not optimistic.
*Update: Information was released about the benevolence fund. 3 students who were affected by Wheaton’s healthcare decision received additional financial assistance.