Committee announces health insurance changes

By Carolina Bolado

The Student Health Insurance Review Committee recently announced the new plan redesign of the Student Accident and Sickness Insurance (SASI) for the upcoming school year. After two months of deliberation, the committee has done away with the former two-tier health insurance plan system.

“The plan design changes are the most substantial in past years,” said Grace Chan, the associate dean in the division of student services and the director of student health affairs. “We thought that it’s important for all the students to get this information and be able to make their own insurance plan choices.”

The committee, made up of six administrators, three graduate students, and one undergraduate, attempted to keep the premiums down without cutting benefits drastically. Had the committee not altered the plans, the insurance premiums would have risen 31 percent. The committee members tried to keep the increases within the industry standard of 14 to 18 percent without reducing benefits drastically. Historically, when premiums went up, fewer students purchased the plan, thereby increasing the instability of the program. The more students purchase the plan, the lower the costs.

“We tried to redesign plan benefits to make it possible for the majority of students to have adequate coverage without having to pay a lot more for the plan,” Chan said. “We want to maintain about the same number or hopefully have more students enrolled in the plan.”

The new plan offers three options — the basic, advantage, and dependents plans – as opposed to the previous two-tier structure of basic and comprehensive plans. The basic plan, which this year cost $1,134, will cost $1,197 for the upcoming year. The plan will keep the same deductible and reimbursement structure with a $200 annual deductible, 80 percent coverage in-network, and 70 percent out-of-network coverage. The maximum prescription drug benefits will be $1,000 per year.

“We just have seen a bunch of medical costs rise, including prescription costs and surgical costs. It’s a combination of different things,” Chan said.

The advantage plan, which will cost $1,782 annually, will include an annual deductible of $100. Coverage will be 90 percent in-network and 70 percent out-of-network. The maximum prescription benefits will be $5,000 per year.

The dependents plan provides coverage comparable to the basic plan and costs $2,139 per year. Each spouse or registered domestic partner pays a premium, and one premium covers one or multiple children in the family.

Both the basic and advantage plans have $10 co-payments for generic drugs and $20 to $25 co-payments for brand-name drugs. The maximum benefit for high cost diagnostic procedures will be $2,000 per condition and the maximum benefit for outpatient surgery will be $5,000 per condition.

The maximum per condition per policy year was decreased to $50,000 for both the basic and advantage plans, but students will be able to purchase supplemental plans for $268 per year for the student, $487 for a spouse or registered domestic partner, and $302 per child. With the supplemental plan, the annual maximum benefit is increased to $250,000.

“Students are absolutely encouraged to purchase the additional coverage. The change in maximum benefit does not affect most students,” Chan said.

Approximately half of all registered students purchase the University health insurance plan, most of whom are graduate students. Only 16 percent of those who purchase the plan are undergraduates, since most are still covered by their parents’ insurance plans.

“We do require all students to certify that they have a plan that’s comparable to the University plan because we want to protect students from very high medical costs,” Chan said.

The University’s plan is distributed by the Chickering Group and underwritten by Aetna Life Insurance, Inc. Chickering is the leader in the student insurance field, according to Chan, insuring over 90 schools across the country. Chickering has been losing money insuring Chicago students for several years.

“We generally try to survey other university plans. A lot of students have their parents’ plans, and it’s very difficult to compare those,” Chan said.

The health insurance is completely distinct from the mandatory health fee for all students, which will be $118 per quarter for the 2002-2003 school year. This fee covers primary care services at the Student Care Center and counseling services at the Student Counseling and Resource Service.