Health Services explains reasons behind mandatory student fee
After discovering that approximately 25-30 percent of University students were either under-insured or uninsured five years ago, a committee comprised of parents, administrators and an outside consultant determined that mandating all students to enroll in a University-sponsored health insurance plan was the best solution.
The $615 University health services fee that all full-time Washington University students are required to purchase includes health insurance, access to both the mental and medical sides of health services and funds health promotion and education.
Dr. Alan Glass, director of Student Health and Counseling Services, (SHCS) supports the fee as a means for promoting community health.
“It seems to me that it’s a health issue for an individual that the person sitting next to them in class doesn’t have [an] untreated illness that they’re spreading,” said Glass. “And you can say that maybe most illnesses are kind of trivial. Like what’s the difference if you get a cold from somebody in your psychology class? But what if it’s tuberculosis? What if it’s SARS?.I think the community health benefit piece of a totally insured population would outweigh the challenges on the individual related to providing [a University insurance plan].”
But some students feel annoyed that they are required to purchase health insurance through the school when they are already insured.
“At a larger university, if you could have your own health insurance, why are you forced to buy it again?” asked senior Michael Polich.
Other students, however, like the benefits of the University’s insurance plan and do not mind paying the mandatory fee.
“For me, it was well worth it because I actually had a medical problem this year and they basically covered like thousands of dollars worth of fees,” said senior James Wang.
While the University’s medical insurance policy helps to cover the cost of most medical procedures and hospital visits, one drawback is that it does not offer prescription drug coverage. Glass explained that this benefit was not included because of its cost.
“If we had a prescription drug benefit on our student insurance, it would probably double the yearly premium,” said Glass.
Since the only insurance accepted by SHCS is the insurance offered through the University, this means that any prescriptions filled at the pharmacy at SHCS must be paid for in full.
“We do everything we can to keep our costs in our pharmacy low enough that it’s as manageable as possible for the largest number of people,” said Glass. “But, if they want to use the prescription benefit from their other insurance, then getting their prescriptions filled at Walgreens or Williams or one of the area pharmacies is the best way to do that.”
Glass said that the committee that decided to make the fee a requirement rejected a plan which would offer students a choice between using their own insurance plans and the University-sponsored plan, as having a choice could not ensure all students would be covered.
“The flaw I think is that a lot of times students who think they’re covered by another insurance really aren’t and so you really can have a fair number of uninsured or under-insured students with plans like that,” said Glass. “It was decided at the time that it was important enough that everyone be covered that they decided to make health insurance required or mandatory. The premium for the health insurance basically became the health fee. It was decided that that was the best way, or really the only way to ensure that everybody was covered.”
Other schools including Northwestern, Emory, Cornell, Brown and Harvard offer a choice between their own health insurance plans and students’ own plans, but all require proof of medical coverage such as hospitalization insurance. If students’ own plans do not meet certain requirements, they are usually required to purchase their school insurance plan or an outside plan.
It is not uncommon for schools to require students to pay a health services fee outside any insurance plans, but it is less common for schools to require students to purchase the school’s own health insurance plan.
Schools such as the University of Chicago, Brown, Duke, the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia and Harvard all charge a mandatory health services fee, but all offer a choice when it comes to insurance plans. A student can choose whether to purchase the school’s insurance or provide proof of his or her own medical insurance. In any case, the expenses for insurance are outside the obligatory health services fee, which can sometimes exceed the total cost of the University’s plan.
For example, the health services fee alone at Harvard is $1,370 for the 2005-2006 school year. This does not include insurance coverage, which students are required to have. They can purchase it through the school for an additional $1,158 for the year or provide proof of their own insurance plan. But unlike Washington University’s student health services, Harvard has its own hospital which is always open and available to students 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The University of Pennsylvania charges a $111 health services fee and offers a choice for students in terms of personal versus school-sponsored health plans.
Other schools, such as Stanford and the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), do not charge a health services fee.
Caltech even offers its students free health insurance, including prescription drug benefits.
Stanford offers students a choice between using their own insurance or purchasing the school-sponsored plan, which cost $587 for the 2005-2006 school year and includes prescription drug coverage if the drugs are filled at Stanford’s health center.
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