Compelling statistics, convincing policy ideas, and plenty of phone calls helped her make the case for health care.
Miranda Welch was researching health insurance options when she made a startling discovery. The Student Health Insurance Plan available to University of Iowa undergraduate, graduate, and professional students didn’t cover annual gynecological care for women.
That changed this fall, thanks to a campaign by Welch and Nicole Pearson, a 2009 UI master’s of public health grad. Together, they crunched health statistics, drafted policy proposals, and enlisted support from across campus and beyond.
“It’s great to know I changed something on campus,” says Welch, a senior English and women’s studies major from Stratford, Iowa. “I knew I wanted to make a change while on campus, and this was a project that really suited me and was very important to many women within our community.”
While Welch found practically universal support for her effort, not everyone was sure she could pull it off. Even seasoned activists questioned whether a tight economy would scuttle any attempt to expand insurance coverage.
“I think they really thought this was bigger than us, that we didn’t have the power to change it,” Welch says.
For help, Welch turned to colleagues and friends at the Women’s Resource and Action Center (WRAC), where she has volunteered since coming to campus. The WRAC-based group Iowa Women Initiating Social Change provided a sounding board—once Welch convinced her peers that the challenge wasn’t insurmountable.
The evidence spoke volumes. Welch and Pearson documented rising cervical cancer rates that underscored the need for regular screenings. They pointed out that only two Big Ten schools didn’t cover annual exams in their student health insurance plans.
But Welch’s networking strategy was just as important. She immediately began calling deans, former WRAC directors, public health leaders, and even a contact at the Iowa Board of Regents to ask their endorsement.
“Being able to cite my WRAC affiliation made it easier,” Welch says. “It lent the project some additional credibility with a lot of people.”
Welch’s policy proposal also helped win support—contacts saw that she’d done her homework. And as it turned out, making the case was easier than just about anyone had expected.
Welch met a positive reception at the UI Benefits Office, which administers the student insurance plan. With additional information on the plan’s feasibility, including cost changes, she pitched a pilot project to the Student Health Advisory Committee.
The committee decided to bypass the pilot and recommend a permanent change to Tom Rocklin, vice president for student services, who approved it. “I’m pleased that students worked as hard as they did to make this change,” Rocklin says.
Today, Welch is working to spread word about the shift in coverage, again through networking. “We’re trying to run a low-budget, word-of-mouth empowerment campaign that asks women to talk to other women in their lives,” she says.
She’s also applying to graduate schools and aiming to apply her experience to future causes. “This project has helped me learn how to open up a dialogue and work with administrators—something people don’t always consider when building their career skills,” Welch says.
“It doesn’t matter who you are,” she adds. “If you find the right channels and work for it, you can make change happen.”
Story by Tessa McLean and Lin Larson; Photo by Tim Schoon
October 26, 2009