An online petition asking Brigham Young University–Idaho to explain and rescind a decision to stop accepting Medicaid as an acceptable health plan to waive the school’s student insurance policy had gotten more than 6,650 signatures as of Wednesday evening.

Some Brigham Young University-Idaho students are pushing back against the university’s decision to stop accepting Medicaid as an acceptable health plan to waive the school’s student insurance policy.

Almost 400 people have joined the Facebook page Accept Medicaid BYU-I, where students have been discussing ways to draw attention to their problems with the new rule. Calling Monday “Medicaid Monday,” students stopped in the health center asking for more information and commented on the university’s social media posts asking about the change.

“It was frustrating that they also only gave us (about) a month-and-a-half to find new insurance before they’ll charge us for theirs,” said Amanda Emerson, one of the organizers. “It was just kind of out of the blue and no warning.”

Meanwhile, an online petition asking the university to explain and rescind the policy had gotten more than 5,800 signatures as of midday Tuesday.

“I wouldn’t have been able to go to school and go through two pregnancies in two calendar years without being able to waive the Student Health Plan by being enrolled in Medicaid,” one former student wrote. “This is an appropriate season of life to use something that is government-funded for the sake of growth and paying it forward as we students go into the workforce and pay taxes that will supplement programs like this. We need Medicaid.”

Word came out last week that BYU-Idaho would no longer accept Medicaid to waive the student health plan, meaning students who are covered by Medicaid must seek out other coverage or pay for a student health plan, which costs $536 per semester for an individual and $2,130 for a family.

Idaho voters voted in 2018 to expand Medicaid to everyone making up to 138 percent of the poverty level, and BYU-Idaho’s decision comes less than two months before expanded coverage will take effect. State officials project 6 percent of Madison County residents will qualify for Medicaid expansion, the highest percentage in Idaho.

Many universities, although not all, require students to have health insurance — in Idaho, Boise State University and Idaho State University don’t, for example. Other BYU system schools, including the main Brigham Young University campus in Provo, Utah, still accept Medicaid to waive student health plans. BYU-Idaho officials have not explained their decision publicly. The university declined to comment last week when the story was first reported by the Post Register and several other local media outlets, then sent out a brief statement on Friday that didn’t explain the reason for the change.

“Brigham Young University-Idaho has decided to not accept the Idaho Expanded Medicaid program, which takes effect Jan. 1, 2020, to serve as an insurance waiver option for students,” the statement said. “BYU-Idaho is working with students, on a case-by-case basis, to help them with their healthcare options.”

Emerson got an email about a week-and-a-half ago saying the university planned to add her to the student health plan since Medicaid would no longer be accepted to waive it. Emerson said she and her husband only have one semester left, but she worries about her fellow students.

“We have a daughter and one on the way,” Emerson said. “We know similar people in our circumstances that still have two years to go. The school is essentially making them pay twice the tuition amount when they’re fully eligible for Medicaid and fully insured by them.”

Reclaim Idaho, the group that got Medicaid expansion on the ballot in 2018, condemned the move. Reclaim co-founder Luke Mayville said the decision “puts families and students at risk.”

“We are hearing from students, families and volunteers throughout Madison County and eastern Idaho who are outraged by the university’s choice to reject healthcare options for their 20,000 students,” he said.

“The vast majority of students and families we’re hearing from can’t believe the university would make such punitive decisions without explaining why,” said Executive Director Rebecca Schroeder. “In one paragraph in a press release, they dropped a bombshell on hundreds, if not thousands, of students and are wiping their hands of the issue. The BYU-Idaho community deserves much better than that.”

While the university has yet to come out with an official public explanation, Emerson said some students were told at the health center that, due to Medicaid expansion, there were fears that health care providers in the Rexburg area would be overrun with Medicaid patients and wouldn’t be able to take care of them all.

Emerson said she and her fellow students plan to set up tables just off campus on Friday to talk to people. They are also considering making T-shirts promoting their cause. In the meantime, she said they plan to back off a bit to give the administration “a couple days to breathe and respond.” Emerson said that while there may be a valid reason for the decision, the lack of an official explanation has been frustrating and hearing one would help.

“I think just having that mutual understanding would be super helpful for everyone,” she said.

Reporter Nathan Brown can be reached at 208-542-6757. Follow him on Twitter: @NateBrownNews.