More on coed care

April 1, 2006

John Poelman, student body vice president and a senior at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, is concerned about the rising cost of healthcare benefits and the number of uninsured who have no safety net if some unforeseen illness or injury should occur. He says that the university would adopt a hard waiver policy if enough students supported the idea.

John Poelman, student body vice president and a senior at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, is concerned about the rising cost of healthcare benefits and the number of uninsured who have no safety net if some unforeseen illness or injury should occur. He says that the university would adopt a hard waiver policy if enough students supported the idea.

"Unfortunately, most students do not understand the value of health insurance," he says.

Although the majority of students are on their parents' health plans, Poelman believes that in an ideal world, student health insurance would be mandatory. "I'd like to see everyone insured, but not at the expense of giving up higher education," he says.

Each year at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, the university's medical director sends letters to the parents of each incoming freshman and to all transfer and graduate students, including seminary and law school students. The communication encourages them to buy healthcare insurance even though it is not mandatory at Baylor except for international students.

A survey of all college and universities in the state by the Texas Department of Insurance shows that of the 19% who responded from Baylor, 83% are insured-what Rosemary Townsend, director of business affairs for the Baylor Health Center, considers a snapshot of college-age students.

"We assume students have adequate coverage if they need it but realize that minor problems can become expensive quickly-sometimes forcing students to drop out of school to pay medical bills," she says.

Townsend admits that the university-sponsored plan is designed for catastrophic coverage, not major medical as an employer plan might cover.

"It offers adequate coverage affordably to our traditional-age college students," she adds. At Baylor, that means a $999 annual policy, with a $300 deductible paying 100% after it is reached and a $50,000 maximum per occurrence. The policy pays 80% for network specialty care and 70% for out-of-network services. Most undergraduates are insured elsewhere, so only 682 have the university-sponsored plan.

A concerned advisory group of students, faculty and staff are developing a request for proposal for a new insurance vendor. Townsend says student input is being sought in order to design an ideal, affordable plan. For example, married students would like to see coverage for maternity and childhood immunizations.

Louisiana State University (LSU) in Baton Rouge, La., offers a pared-down and affordable benefit that is not mandatory for students.

"It's a big decision to go mandatory, especially in the South where fewer schools have done so," says David Rousmaniere, assistant director for business and technology at LSU. "We'd be looking at an increase of $600 a year in tuition."

The policy covers most student needs, such as up to $800 a day in the hospital and a maximum $25,000 per illness for $685 a year; to increase the cap to $50,000 costs an additional $73 a year.

Rousmaniere says that student health services-costing $80 in student fees annually-is the gatekeeper and provides discounted services, including office visits, lab and x-rays, along with competitively priced drugs. If outside services are used without a referral from the student health center, the treatment is not covered.

"The challenge," Rousmaniere continues, "is to keep the policy affordable. If it's too expensive, no one will buy it, which will defeat the purpose."