This editorial was published by the Post Register of Idaho Falls.
The Brigham Young University-Idaho administration has placed the university into a position of needless controversy by requiring students who qualify for Medicaid to buy a duplicative, expensive health insurance policy in order to remain enrolled.
If there’s any good that’s come from this incident so far, it will be for students of public relations. The administration has managed this situation so poorly that such students will certainly study it in detail as a near-perfect, step-by-step example of what not to do (and how to lose trust while doing it) — perhaps alongside the 1957 rollout of the Ford Edsel and Richard Nixon’s declaration, “I am not a crook.”
An entry in the textbook might look like this:
Step 1: Make an abrupt, bad decision.
The principal task of a university is to educate its students, to help them improve.
Allowing students to access Medicaid falls squarely within this mission, allowing them to remain healthy and secure while they build a foundation for their future. The decision to require them to buy a useless insurance plan harms them considerably.
Some students are already reporting that this decision will put their education on hold. They had planned to take classes next semester, but now they realize they can’t afford it. They hope to return and finish the degrees they’ve been paying for and working to earn, but they aren’t sure they’ll be able to.
Others are now struggling to save money to pay what amounts to a tax that will benefit no one.
Step 2: Makes sudden pronouncements without justification.
The decision was announced by the university’s administration in an email to students only two months before many expected to be enrolled in Medicaid. Many students had already relied on it for years. But the university’s email failed to answer the first question that was on every student’s mind: Why?
Then the administration rebuffed all questions about its policy. After days of local controversy, it released a brief statement that simply reiterated the policy and again offered no justification for it. The rising uproar turned the matter from two-day local story into a weeklong national story.
BYU-Idaho is owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and questions about whether it was a centralized church policy were quickly dispelled by a single tweet from the BYU campus at Provo, Utah, which emphasized that there would be no change in its policy of accepting Medicaid. This made it clear that responsibility rests in the BYU-Idaho administration.
Step 3: Plug your ears and cover your eyes.
Students who were affected by the policy didn’t take it quietly. Quite predictably and justifiably, they raised their voices in protests.
These are not loud, disruptive campus protests. There’s been no talk of occupying a building or shouting down a speaker.
Students resolved to wear pink and orange ribbons in solidarity with the affected students. They printed fliers. They spoke out. Through it all, they emphasized respect and positivity in a way few other student bodies would. The administration has a great deal to learn from them — if it will listen.
So far, it has not. Students have not reported that the administration will meet with them to hash things out. They’ve turned to their professors in many cases, hoping they will take their objections up the chain. All the while, the administration’s stolid silence is undermining confidence in their institution.
So, quite predictably and justifiably, the protests continue to grow.
Step 4: Justify yourself with nonsense.
After days of refusing to say anything about the policy change, the administration finally relented a bit, sending an email to students indicating that it had made the decision to refuse Medicaid because local providers would be overwhelmed with new patients.
When you call local providers with this explanation, their responses range from a quizzical, “That ... makes no sense,” to outright bursts of laughter.
That’s because the justification is absurd on its face. Students who qualify for expanded Medicaid will still get it, so the policy won’t reduce demand significantly at local providers.
A quick visit to the Department of Health and Welfare website will provide you with a four-page list of local primary care providers who accept Medicaid patients. And Idaho Falls, the largest health care hub in the region, is just down the road.
If the administration believes what it says, it’s been badly deceived.
Step 5: Silence those whose job it is to inform.
Reporters at the campus newspaper, the Scroll, provided excellent, well-researched reporting shortly after the announcement of the new policy.
Then — at precisely the moment when reporters from some of the nation’s largest media outlets became involved in the story — came an abrupt and total silence. This is not characteristic of the behavior we have previously seen from the school’s journalists, who are good at their jobs and very dedicated. And, according to a recording of a staff meeting there, reporters have been told not to “poke the bear.” Another way to describe the job of a journalist is: poking the bear.
From the university’s radio station, which is a branch of its public relations department but also does some reporting, there has been silence from the get-go. Multiple employees have confirmed that the station was directed not to report on the policy.
Silencing student journalists is yet another scandal to stack on the pile, and it is an instance of the university doing harm to its students: depriving the student body of information they have a right to know, robbing young journalists of the opportunity to practice their trade and undermining the credibility of a vital institution for the university.
The administration should progress to the inevitable — Step 6 — as quickly as possible: Reverse its decision on accepting Medicaid, let student journalists do their jobs and apologize to the student body.