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Student Health Insurance Review by the Wall Street Journal

December 17, 2021
Wall Street Journal Student Health Care Review

The September 26th edition of the Wall Street Journal published an article titled  “How College Health Plans Are Failing Students”. The article written by Jessical Silver-Greenberg and Mary Pilon, is comprehensive in its discussion of the limits of many school sponsored student health plans. However, it failed to address just how few affordable choices students have if the school plan does not meet their needs.

Unlike permanent health insurance, these Student Health Plans are designed for students and often times schools are trying to balance affordability with coverage needed at that particular life stage.   Schools and insurers alike should be creating more choice for students so they can find the right plan to meet their needs while making certain all options provide acceptable standards of coverage.

Please read the entire article on WSJ.com or to see some of the highlights included here:

Changing Regulations:

The new health care legislation has immediate and potentially long term consequences for college students.

“On Thursday, (blog note – September 23rd) the first big pieces of the new health-care overhaul took effect. Among other things, the rules mandate that insurance companies offer coverage to adult children until the age of 26 and devote at least 80% of their revenue to health-care costs.   But one major player was notably absent from these new rule changes: colleges. They have managed to sidestep, at least for now, the regulatory clampdown that has sent hospitals, insurers and corporations scrambling.   How’d they pull it off? Since student plans for the school year were negotiated before Sept. 23, they aren’t subject to the regulations this year.

The health-care overhaul has major implications for young adults and their parents. For the first time, parents will have the choice of keeping their graduate-student children on their corporate insurance plans or opting for cheaper college plans.

There is broad consensus that, as a group, college health-insurance plans rank among the worst in the nation for consumers. Many college plans come with remarkably low benefit ceilings—in some cases as little as $2,500.    Others limit areas of coverage, such as preventative services and chemotherapy.

The upshot: Students are often much less insured than they think they are. In extreme cases high-school seniors with health issues might be advised to consider a college’s health plan before attending.

The college health-care system is a hodgepodge of school plans and private insurance. According to the Government Accountability Office, more than half of the nation’s colleges offer school-sponsored plans. All told, about 80% of college students, nearly 7 million people, are covered by private or public health insurance.…

Most schools aim to provide the best care for the lowest cost. Students tend to be healthier than the general population, so school plans don’t need the safety nets found in adult plans. “

Change in Status of Group Plans?

The WSJ article goes on to discuss the debate surrounding how the new health care legislation applies to college sponsored plans.

“The American College Health Association “is supporting regulatory clarification that would allow student plans to preserve the grouplike status that is vital to providing lower cost coverage to students,” says Jake Baggott, ACHA’s advocacy coalition chair. Dr. Turner, ACHA’s president until June, says the spirit of his conversation with the White House was that “they would be happy to include in the regulations the necessary language to assure preservation of the plans.”

Insurers seem to be confident they will get their way. According to three people familiar with the matter, Aetna has told colleges that they have nothing to worry about because their plans will be exempted. Aetna says it never conveyed that message to its members. “We expect that all student plans that wish to be credible will comply with minimum coverage requirements as soon as possible,” says Ethan Slavin, a spokesman for the insurer.  Good insurance plans are marked by a few elements, among them benefit ceilings of at least $250,000, generous prescription drug plans and emergency room coverage. According to the GAO, more than half of all school plans have ceilings of less than $30,000.

Parents and students can get the most for their money by carefully examining school plans before signing up. Health-care planning should come long before enrollment, says James A. Boyle, president of the College Parents of America, a Virginia-based nonprofit.”

Questions to Ask?

“Anyone considering a school plan should ask a number of questions, say experts:

• What is the maximum benefit for the policy?

• Are prescriptions and mental health services included?

• What happens to coverage if you leave school, go abroad or graduate?

• What is the loss ratio?

• Do any on-campus services, such as checkups or flu shots, overlap with existing coverage?

Parents who are considering keeping their child on their personal insurance should ask their benefits representative or insurer about how coverage will be carried over on campus and off—especially at schools far from home. (This also applies to graduate students and to adult children under age 26.) They should also be ready to sign a waiver with the school so they’re not charged for automatic enrollment in a campus policy.

If, after getting all these answers, both the employer and school insurance options seem unappealing, parents should consider using a site like eHealthInsurance.com, which allows for comparison browsing among 10,000 plans from 180 carriers.  (Blog Note – eHealth provides the GradGuard Student Health Plan as its national alternative for students.)

 

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WSJ – Tuition Insurance Catches On as Costs Rise, Students Struggle to Adjust

August 19, 2018

Appeared in the August 20, 2018, print edition as ‘Demand for Tuition Insurance Is Surging.’

‘The cost of college is driving this,’ ‘

Families cannot afford the loss of $30,000, John Fees – Co-Founder of GradGuard.

As college tuition rises so too has demand for insurance to cover what in many cases is among a family’s biggest investments.

For Mindy DiCostra, a tuition-insurance policy was a life-saver last year after her daughter withdrew mid-semester in her junior year at Marymount Manhattan College in New York following an allergic reaction to an anxiety medication.

Because Ms. DiCostra agreed to pay $238 for tuition insurance when doing paperwork for the school, she was eligible to receive a full reimbursement for the $16,000 in tuition she and her husband had paid for the semester.

“I had no idea how important it would be when I checked that box,” she said.

Tuition insurance protects families in case their son or daughter has to drop out of school past the point at which a school offers tuition reimbursement, usually around halfway through the semester. Driving the increased demand are higher college costs and, to a lesser extent, rising mental-health disorders among college students that have raised concerns among parents that their children may struggle away from home.

About 70,000 policies were written across the U.S. market last year, up from 20,000 five years ago, said John Fees, co-founder of GradGuard, which started selling tuition-reimbursement insurance seven years ago. It works with campuses including the University of Pennsylvania, Auburn University and New York University, its website says.

“The cost of college is driving this,” said Mr. Fees. “Families cannot afford the loss of $30,000.”

The average published tuition and fees at a private college has increased to $34,740 in 2017 from $15,160 in 1988 according to the College Board. The numbers are adjusted for inflation.

“I think a lot of families don’t fully grasp that if they have to withdraw midterm it can have a significant financial impact,” said Paige Lee Director of Tuition Insurance at Allianz. College is “the second largest investment most families will ever make” after a home.

Most schools have some sort of reimbursement policy but they generally don’t cover withdrawals during the second half of the semester. At Vanderbilt University, a student will be reimbursed for some portion of his or her tuition and room and board up until about halfway through the semester. After that, they don’t receive anything.

Tuition and housing at Vanderbilt costs about $59,000, and 80% of that can be reimbursed with insurance, which costs about $530, said Chris Cook, who oversees the financial accounts of students at the school.

Several companies provide tuition insurance, Most policies charge in the neighborhood of 1% of the cost of school. A semester that runs $30,000 would cost about $300. At least 200 schools now work with insurers, offering the coverage to families when the pay the tuition bill.

Liberty Mutual Insurance started offering tuition-reimbursement policies this year, in part because of consumer demand. When a student drops out mid-semester parents are often “very surprised to learn that you may not get anything back,” said Michele Chevalier, a senior director at Liberty Mutual.

Not everyone thinks the plans are necessary. Jodi Okun, a college financial adviser in Los Angeles, said she has so far steered her clients away from tuition insurance because she doesn’t feel it is necessary in most cases. However, she has but counseled them to be aware of the timeline for withdrawals, so if a student is struggling with a mental-health issue they can leave in time to recoup the cost.

“I tell them, make sure you know when the deadlines are, especially if they are going far away to school,” she said.

Plans don’t typically cover students who drop out for academic or disciplinary reasons but will for medical reasons. Generally, insurers don’t ask about pre-existing conditions, either mental or physical. The idea, GradGuard’s Mr. Fees said, is: “If a student is healthy enough to start to a semester, they qualify.”

Insurers say that the number of claims they receive citing mental health incidents has risen. As many as one in four students at some elite U.S. colleges are now classified as disabled, largely because of mental-health issues such as depression or anxiety, according to the National Center for Education Statistics and interviews with schools.

Carmen Duarte, a spokesperson for A.W.G. Dewar, Inc. which has been offering tuition-reimbursement policies since the 1930s, said claims have remained flat for physical-health incidents but increased for mental-health reasons. She said policies are most likely to be bought by families of first year students. Allianz Insurance, which began selling the policies in 2015, said about 20% of claims were for mental health and 70% were for physical health.

Write to Douglas Belkin at doug.belkin@wsj.com

Corrections & Amplifications
Michele Chevalier is a senior director at Liberty Mutual. An earlier version of this article misspelled her first name. (Aug. 19)