Student Health Services: A call for transparency
After nearly a decade of requiring students to purchase the University’s health insurance plan, Washington University is changing its policy, in accordance with the Affordable Care Act. As in the past, all students still will be required to have acceptable health insurance, and the University will continue to offer a student health insurance plan. However, students may decline to purchase that plan if they can prove that they have adequate coverage through another plan—namely, that of their parents.
This plan is in no way revolutionary and is in fact almost identical to ones being offered at other schools such as Vanderbilt University, Emory University and the University of Chicago. And while it makes sense that the University would allow students to take advantage of coverage they already have, the problem is in the fine print—or, rather, the fact that there is no fine print available at this point.
Students have been told they will have to pay a $300 health and wellness fee regardless of whether they already have insurance, but not how much health insurance will cost for those who will continue to require it. Dr. Alan Glass, director of the Habif Health and Wellness Center, has made it clear that the new plan will be more expensive, but any actual figures or plan details are notably absent from the informational materials students have received. In addition, Student Health Services has not yet released a list of which outside insurance plans it will accept.
While SHS hasn’t specified what insurance it will accept, it has already decided how much it will be charging for the privilege. The SHS website claims that the newly imposed health fee will cover the additional costs of billing insurance companies, as well as the costs of unspecified health and wellness activities and programs, which may include not only student health services but also nutrition, sexual assault services, the Athletic Complex and the South 40 Fitness Center.
This change in policy would be an ideal opportunity for SHS to determine the best places to allocate its funding and improve its overall quality. Instances of poor service continue to darken SHS’s reputation. Just last month, SHS failed to provide an adequate number of flu vaccines after sending a mass email to students suggesting they get them. With the recent increase in tuition and the ongoing Leading Together campaign, it remains unclear why the maintenance of facilities such as the Athletic Complex and South 40 Fitness Center require an additional fee for all students.
There has clearly been a lack of communication with students about what care SHS will continue to offer them under outside insurance plans. That combined with a seeming disregard for students who will continue to require the University’s health insurance plan—and do not yet know what they will have to pay or what they will receive—leaves everyone under-informed and ultimately underserved by an office many students already consider an unsubstantiated mono diagnosis away from valid healthcare.
The issue boils down to a discrepancy between what students need and what the University tells us we need. And both students and the University would benefit from the knowledge of what services and programs would improve the community as a whole.