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BYU-Idaho reverses decision on Medicaid coverage amid backlash

The school's statement included an apology for 'the turmoil caused by our earlier decision.'

The BYU-Idaho campus in Rexburg, Idaho. Video screengrab

(RNS) — An Idaho college affiliated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has reversed its decision not to accept Medicaid coverage. The decision comes in the wake of widespread criticism from students and alumni.

“We are grateful for the feedback we have received from our campus community and for the input of the local medical community,” administrators at Brigham Young University-Idaho announced in a campuswide email on Monday (Nov. 25). “We have decided that Medicaid, as it has in previous years, will meet the health coverage requirement at BYU-Idaho.”

School officials also apologized for “the turmoil caused by our earlier decision.”

The Scroll, BYU-Idaho’s student newspaper, reported in mid-November that the school would longer accept Medicaid as a form of health care coverage. This caused concern among students, who are required to have health insurance or sign up for the school’s Student Health Plan in order to enroll in classes.

Administrators initially offered no explanation for the decision, which occurred shortly after enrollment for expanded Medicaid in the state began. Officials then claimed in an official statement that the school decided not to accept Medicaid out of concern that doing so would overload the “local medical community and infrastructure.”

However, local hospitals and medical professionals voiced skepticism about the school’s reasoning. Student reporters at the campus newspaper were allegedly pressured by the administration not to cover the controversy.

The decision to deny Medicaid triggered a wave of student activism that included petitions, an “Accept Medicaid BYU-I” Facebook group with hundreds of members, and calls for a “Medicaid Monday” protest. Some students told Religion News Service and other reporters at local and national media outlets that they were planning to drop out or retract their expected enrollment, arguing that the student plan does not offer adequate coverage and the cost of private health insurance would be too much.

After news of the school’s reversal broke on Monday evening, students such as Kala Grant were thrilled.

“I am overjoyed!” Grant, an incoming sophomore transfer student whose plans to attend BYU-Idaho were threatened by the school’s decision not to accept Medicaid, told RNS via Facebook Messenger. “I am so thankful that this misguided policy has been reversed. Now I’m excited to prepare for next semester and working toward my biology degree.”

She added: “I hope that in the future, BYU-I can learn from this misstep and communicate more effectively with its students and community.”