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Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Campus

An in-depth look at student health insurance


Jiselle Santos/The Cougar

The presence of health insurance isn’t felt until it’s desperately needed, but students, who have other worries like midterms and homework, might take their options for granted.

Even students in the prime of their health aren’t exempt from accidents like broken bones or life-altering conditions and diseases, like cancer. Students should be in the know about the plans and benefits available to mitigate these potential pit-falls.

“Students who are well-informed have a greater chance of maximizing their plan benefits,” said the Health Center’s Student Health Insurance Coordinator Naomi Odom.

Regular check-ups with the doctor, dentist and optometrist are recommended to spot early problems.

Professors and workplaces often ask for doctor’s notes to justify missing a class, and in that case, students might skip a visit in favor of taking an unexcused absence. But common colds, fevers and  stomach bugs can be taken care of at the UH health clinic, cheaper if you’re on the campus-provided plan

“Students who are insured with the Student Health Insurance Plan are covered at 100 percent when using the UH Student Health Center,” Odom said. “So this would save money on copays, co-insurances and deductibles.”

On the other hand, getting the UH coverage is expensive, with a price tag over $2,500 for the domestic/voluntary annual plan, and more than $1,000 for the international mandatory plan.

“Although no premium is entirely inexpensive, we would consider SHIP’s premium to be very competitive to other outside private insurance plans,” Odom said.

The Cougar researched the details of these plans and spoke to students about their coverage.

What UH coverage looks like

So what are they details of the Student Health Insurance Plan?  The plan sells itself when considering other options out there, Odom said.

“We educate and empower our students to familiarize themselves with their health plan benefits,” Odom said.

Undergraduate students who are enrolled in at least six credit hours can enroll in the SHIP. The price for the domestic annual plan is $2,590, while a Fall only plan is $864, a Spring/Summer plan is $1,726, and a Summer only plan is $651.

Students enrolled in the SHIP can expect a $10 copay for general visits to the Health Center, according to the center’s cost of services. Surgeries, in-office physician fees, and lab procedures through the Health Center are covered 100 percent by the SHIP.

With network providers, after a $100 copay, SHIP will also cover 80 percent of hospital room and board expenses, diagnostic x-ray services, and after a $150 copay, the plan will cover 80 percent of emergency services expenses.

International students with “F” or “J” visa statuses must be covered by the SHIP or an equivalent plan, regardless of credit hours, according to the Health Center information page on their plans.

At the time of registration, international students will automatically be enrolled in the SHIP and charged to their student financial account.

“Learning about the basics such as copays, deductibles and as to whether or not a specialist is ‘in or out of network’ will result in a better experience for the consumer,” Odom said.

Odom also said students who visit their physician a few times a month for chronic conditions, such as allergies, could see a greater return by enrolling SHIP compared to a family plan.

Odom felt it’s up to students whether to choose SHIP or another plan.

“I believe this decision should be made based off of the student’s individual needs and financial situation,” Odom said.

Uninsured city

Houston is the second most uninsured large city in the United States, with an average uninsured rate of 23.81 percent, according to a recent study done by Wallethub. How does this measure up to UH’s rate?

“Currently, we are unable to determine how we compare to the city average in this regard,” Odom said. “We would need to collect data from a large enough group over a semester basis to approximate our answer to this.”

However, Odom said a small scale survey done by the health center found that up to 30 percent of students surveyed were uninsured.

“We have received feedback that most students prefer to retain their parents’ coverage despite the very competitive if not superior features our SHIP offers students,” Odom said. “Based on the percentage enrolled at UH, there still remains a significant portion of the total student population who may not have any health insurance coverage.”

Odom encouraged uninsured students to take advantage of UH’s options before it became a significant issue.

“Unfortunately, it only takes one significant, unanticipated adverse health event to impact one’s finances,” Odom said. “A minor procedure can cost hundreds to thousands of dollars and a major surgery can yield tens of thousands of debt in dollars.”

Low usage

There are many insurance options for students. There is coverage provided by the campus, family coverage off-campus, yet there are also students who remain uninsured during their college years.

There are only 840 students with the on-campus insurance, and 2,988 international students with an “F” or “J” Visa plan who are automatically enrolled in the Student Health Insurance Plan.

“I was looking into (the insurance), because technically I’m from out of the country, but I’m not considered an international student,” said psychology senior Christie Tsao. “The only option that I have is the school health insurance plan.”

Tsao said the health insurance for students increases every year by $200 or more. The fee is additional and not a part of her tuition.

The Student Health Insurance Plan is something some incoming students are considering for their time at UH.

“For me, I live off-campus with my parents, I live at home, I didn’t even know the campus insurance was a thing,” said accounting freshman Jamie Nguyen. “I might have to look into it, that’s something I’d have to discuss with my parents.”

Nguyen said she had off-campus insurance through her parents.

There are students who either do not know whether they have insurance or just don’t have it at all.

Political science freshman Naila Hossain said without insurance she overpays any time she does go to the doctor.

“I don’t have insurance on campus or off,” Hossain said. “My parents used to take care of everything. We would usually just pay out of pocket, because I didn’t really go to the doctor that much.”

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