Lack of transparency causes student issues with health insurance rollover

| Managing Editor

Students using the student insurance plan offered through Washington University this year were not automatically enrolled when their previous policy expired, a change that caused confusion among a number of students.

Changes to the University’s insurance requirements allow students to opt out of the previously required student health insurance by Sept. 15 if covered by a comparable outside policy.

While students were not automatically enrolled in the University’s student insurance plan on Aug. 1, they have still technically been insured under the policy, Alan Glass, director of the Habif Health and Wellness Center, said. Students have been able to enroll themselves manually to get an insurance card before Sept. 15, when all students who have not opted out will be automatically enrolled in the plan.

An insurance card carries an ID number that all providers—including Student Health Services—require.

Some students said that details of the change were not clearly communicated, leaving them paying large sums without knowing exactly what they were getting or having freedom to choose plans more suitable for them. And the University doesn’t ensure that students who waive the student insurance plan aren’t misreporting their other insurance policies.

Confusion stemmed from the fact that students wanting to use the University’s insurance plan offered through UnitedHealthcare had to opt into it instead of being automatically enrolled on Aug. 1, as in previous years.

Junior Stephanie Ostroff said she ran into issues when she tried to upgrade her student insurance plan from the base plan and realized she was not enrolled with UnitedHealthcare for the 2013-14 year—meaning she was not in the company’s system.

“It was a very long process, and a lot of phone calls and the people at UnitedHealthcare really didn’t seem to know too much of what was going on,” Ostroff said.

“I had just figured that if I wasn’t opting out, then I was in,” she said.

The new opt-out option was introduced because the implementation of the Affordable Care Act meant the University’s student insurance would have become too expensive to mandate, Glass said. The price of student insurance increased to $1,300 from $780 last year.

An outside policy is considered sufficient if it meets a list of nine criteria on the SHS website that set specifications for elements such as deductible, prescription drug benefits, in-network providers and national and international coverage.

To opt out of the University’s student insurance policy, students fill out a waiver on the SHS website with a series of questions about their outside insurance policy. If they are able to answer yes to all of the questions, they successfully waive the student insurance.

SHS does not actually check their answers, though Glass said that they do collect insurance ID numbers for students who opt out.

“The system is based on an honor system. There’s really no way to specifically go in and verify whether somebody has answered those questions truthfully or not,” Glass said. “But we like to feel like we’re dealing [with] a population with a lot of integrity.”

Because the online waiver process is still open, Glass said he doesn’t have statistics on how many people have opted out so far. But he expects that most undergraduates will choose to remain on their parent’s insurance.

Since the waiver became available, Glass said that SHS has received many questions about the process. To deal with the influx of inquiries, SHS set up a system for receiving phone calls and an email address, [email protected], to handle insurance questions. Glass also recommended contacting UnitedHealthcare directly.

Junior Adam Cohen voiced discontent with the University’s policy of not accepting Medicaid.

“I wanted to go on Medicaid because that was a cheap option,” Cohen said. “I think that [rejecting Medicaid] hurts the socioeconomically disadvantaged students on campus and actually decreases the diversity on campus because the health insurance costs have gone up 85 percent and Medicaid is not an option.”

Cohen also objected to the University’s requirement that a student’s insurance policy have Barnes-Jewish Hospital as an in-network provider.

“If you have to get coverage while you’re abroad in the country you’re going abroad in, Barnes-Jewish in St. Louis is not going to be in-network,” Cohen said. “To me, that’s just incestuous use of Wash. U.’s medical program.”

Glass noted that the logic for requiring Barnes-Jewish to be in-network was to allow full collaboration between Barnes-Jewish and SHS.

“We’re part of a really great medical system and a really great medical school, and we need the ability to refer students there for specialist care,” Glass said.

While students with outside insurance policies can choose their healthcare provider, students on the school’s insurance policy are required to use SHS as their primary provider. However, all students can utilize SHS regardless of their insurance. This includes the nine free mental health visits per year.

Despite the issues that some students had with the waiver process, some who were able to forgo a University insurance plan said that allowing students to use outside providers was a positive change.

“I just had to go online and fill out a form verifying I had an alternate plan,” junior Hansika Narayan said. “I know that it’s helped a lot of people to just continue using their parent’s plan instead of the University’s because it ends up being cheaper, and I know that it’s been pretty easy for most people to opt out if they want, which is really nice.”

With additional reporting by Divya Kumar.

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