Health Care for International UW Postdocs

Update: Success!  In 2021 Postdoc collective bargaining, we secured a monthly $500 subsidy to paid-direct postdocs who don’t receive a healthcare stipend to cover the costs of their healthcare.  This followed from advocacy with the State Health Care Authority, direct action by hundreds of Postdocs, and finally contract negotiations – in short, our union power!


We need your help to make sure that no UW postdoc has to go without healthcare – please take a moment and sign this important petition (scroll in the box below or follow this link to sign)! For more info, check out the FAQ at the bottom of this page or email

International Students and Scholars have been targeted in recent months by federal policies designed to make travel and work at U.S. universities increasingly difficult. Our union’s International Solidarity Work Group has helped challenge several of these policies – you can read more here– to ensure that UW remains a global institution, welcoming and supportive of all regardless of citizenship or immigration status. UW Administration has been communicating alignment, and helped amplify the plight of academic workers in the face of these attacks.

It is therefore particularly troubling that UW Admin is still taking steps to deny certain Postdocs – those paid directly from external sources and overwhelmingly non-citizens – from receiving the same health care benefits as other UW Postdocs. Last week we filed a grievance asserting that these denials by the University administration violate our contract, including its protections against discrimination.

You can help! Add your name to the petition telling UW no postdoc should be left without healthcare, especially in the time of a pandemic! It harms all of us when any of us are without healthcare, and UW’s actions disincentivize postdocs from bringing additional funding to the University.

Read more about our efforts: UW postdoc health insurance policy denies coverage to dozens of postdocs (Daily UW, Oct. 26, 2020)

Want to get more involved, or have questions? Check out the FAQ below or reach out to us at

An Issue of Equity: How I’m Paying the Price for UW Denying my Health Care

I am a Postdoctoral Scholar at the University of Washington, and have enjoyed my time here working with colleagues to advance science in my field of evolutionary biology. But as a UW employee I’ve also been subject to a deeply unfair policy that stripped my health insurance coverage and has resulted in an immense amount of personal and professional hardship. I’ve helped start a Postdoc union and am pushing for a first contract to make positive change but think it’s also important that a wider audience know my story.

Click to read Jessica’s story.
The price of being a woman: how some UW postdocs are charged discriminatory health care premiums

I am a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Washington. In my research I use climate models and water isotopes archived in ice cores to study Earth’s past climate, which helps to improve predictions of Earth’s future climate. l feel lucky to work here and hopefully make a difference in the world. But I had a negative experience in the beginning acquiring health care, in which I was quoted a discriminatory premium by an insurance company that offers health plans for postdocs in my situation and is listed on the University’s website.

Click to read Marina’s story.
I lost my UW health care when I became a Paid-Direct Postdoc

Albert Ryou’s Story: When I started my Postdoctoral appointment at UW, I was enrolled in UW-provided insurance. I was very happy with it, especially its wide local network and the dental insurance. One year later, I applied for and was awarded an independent Postdoctoral fellowship that used a ‘paid-direct’ funding mechanism.

When my award went into effect, I suddenly lost my UW health and dental insurance, resulting in significant difficulties and great expenses for me. In essentially every aspect of my research and work, nothing had changed, except I had secured independent research funding, which was not only a boon to the research group and the school, but also an important milestone for postdocs and other early career researchers. Furthermore, my only choice for health insurance now was the one made available through the external fellowship, which was much more expensive, out-of-state network, and lacking dental insurance.

This arbitrary and hostile UW policy regarding employee eligibility disproportionately impacts international scholars and it must be changed without delay.
The Daily: “UW postdoc health insurance policy denies coverage to dozens of postdocs”

Tanya Brown, a postdoc in the UW biology department, spent her first month as a postdoctoral researcher reading and writing a fellowship application….

This March, she received the fellowship. Then she found out her benefits would be stripped away.

“It feels as though you’re being punished for getting your own funding,” Brown said. “The lack of communication was frustrating.”

Click to read more in The Daily.


Why are some Postdocs going without healthcare?

Several dozen UW Postdocs are paid directly by external funding sources.  Like other UW Postdocs, they work full-time and are subject to all of the policies of UW; for example UW must supplement their wages if the salary from their funding source is lower than the contractual minimums we bargained as part of our CBA. Some funding organizations may not provide funding for healthcare, leaving these Postdocs to purchase coverage that is far inferior (see two Postdocs’ stories here and here) to the PEBB coverage most Postdocs receive). This disproportionately affects international postdocs who already face additional barriers and oftentimes cannot get plans from the Washington Health Benefit Exchange due to visa requirements.

How does this affect me?

Denial of benefits to even one UW postdoc is an affront to all of us. UW Administration agreed one year ago to provide paid direct Postdocs with health care if they are determined eligible to the Washington State Healthcare Authority. Now that some Postdocs have sought eligibility determination, UW has reversed their earlier position as has started to claim that paid direct Postdocs are not University employees.  Violating the agreement they made with us, and in particular pushing a policy at this time that jeopardizes health, disproportionately impacts international Postdocs, and disincentivizes scholars from bringing external funding to UW is especially problematic in a time of economic uncertainty and budget cuts.

What do postdocs do if they can’t get on PEBB?

Some postdocs are going without basic insurance coverage, having only emergency travel insurance plans that cover travel to their home country in case of illness. Others who are eligible may buy insurance on the state Affordable Care Act marketplace. However, these plans cost hundreds of dollars per month and do not provide the same level of benefits as the PEBB state insurance plan that other postdocs are given. International Postdocs on J1 Visas are not able to purchase ACA marketplace plans, and the only options available to them are costly, less-regulated plans that in many cases discriminate against women and people with preexisting conditions.

Will this imply additional costs for UW? Where will the money come from?

Any costs necessary to provide health care for these Postdocs are small, particularly when most or all of the costs of these full-time employees are borne by the funding source. In some cases, the external funding sources may actually provide funds specifically for health insurance costs.