Student insurance surges

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Student insurance surges

Erika Ward

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 Students at Western Illinois University are getting hit with yet another fee increase in the fall semester – this time it’s insurance.

 Western students are required to have a basic insurance plan. The school itself offers an insurance plan for students who do not have insurance or have insurance that does not have enough coverage.

 The insurance fee for the 2014-2015 school year was $467 per semester ($934 per year). The cost for the upcoming 2015-2016 year has jumped up to $690 per semester ($1,380 per year), meaning students will have to pay $223 more every semester.

 “Within the medical industry there’s always a basic medical cost increase, this is a nationwide increase,” said William Digger Oster, assistant to the vice president for administrative services. “Part of that is built into that (the insurance plan). We did see a decrease in plan participation for the program.”

 Oster believes that the Affordable Care Act is a large reason for lower participation with the plan offered at Western.

 “With PPACA (Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act), or the Affordable Care Act for short, all client plans need to comply with the Affordable Care Act,” Oster said.  “Now, we’re seeing a lot of people who have coverage that is equal to or greater than what we provide.”

 In an effort to get more people to get insurance coverage, the government charges a fee to individuals who are able to afford insurance, but choose not charge people who do not have an exemption.

 For individuals and families, the Affordable Care Act offers premiums for regular health plans as well as dental plans. Western’s insurance plan, through Academic Health Plans (AHP) as the broker with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois as the carrier, offers dental care only for emergencies but also has basic health coverage.

According to Oster, Western’s insurance plan is more expensive because of an increase in claims. 

“There’s no plan maximum on the student health insurance product,” Oster said.  “There’s still some uncertainty in the health insurance marketplace about what that looks like. When you have no maximum, there could be a serious health condition or a serious accident that would maybe lead to multiple surgeries or a long hospital and rehabilitation stay that could quickly eat up essentially all of our premium dollars for one student.”

Oster said he is confident that students will continue to utilize the school’s insurance plan, even with the new increase.

“I do think that (the increase) has the potential to affect the plan participation,” Oster said.  “But, that being said, overall, when you look at the product and kind of take it by a monthly basis and you compare what you could pay on your own, the coverage that we provide for the premium that’s provided is substantially less than people would find in the marketplace. I think it does have the potential to reduce plan participation, but I’m optimistic, or hopeful, that it won’t.”

However, none of the money from the insurance fees goes to the school. The insurance plan for the school is provided by an outside insurance company. All of the money paid for insurance goes to the company, meaning that this cost is not covered by the cost guarantee and will affect all students under the school’s insurance plan.

In an effort to try to have the lowest fee possible, the school pursued five different companies to no avail.

“An extensive marketing effort was conducted through the use of our broker per our request,” Oster said. “We reached out to various other companies. We looked at the current plan that we have and (asked) if we could modify it in some way to make it more affordable without limiting the coverage.

“The plan was designed with a student in mind,” Oster said.  “There are certain benefits that we felt were very important, so when we looked at copays and things like that, you want to make sure that they’re affordable from a student’s perspective.”

The search for a cheaper insurance plan came up with nothing. The current plan is the cheapest possible.

Michael Quigley, a graduate student and student member of the Board of Trustees, wants to make sure that all students are aware of the increase and the reasons behind the increase.

“While I completely understand why the costs are increasing, it’s not good,” Quigley said.  “It is pivotal for students to know the actual cost increases, so they can plan accordingly. I just want to ensure students fully understand the actual cost increases.”

Students who have waived out of the school’s insurance plan because of outside insurance coverage are not affected by the increase.