USF Student Health Services (SHS) has chosen a new insurance carrier for students, which will offer more comprehensive coverage at an increased price.
After five years with Pearce and Pearce, the USF Student Health Insurance Advisory Committee chose Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) of Florida as the University’s new student insurance provider. Despite an annual policy increase to $1,364 - up from $1,253 annually – several deductibles have been reduced while policy caps have been extended or removed.
Along with reduced co-pays for emergency room visits and services outside the USF network, the new policy removes the lifetime maximum benefit cap. Under the old plan, students would only be covered up to $200,000 for life – BCBS covers students up to $200,000 per year, every year.
The new policy also removes the need for referral of services within the USF Physicians Group, a network of USF-employed physicians and specialists around the Tampa Bay area.
“Our students can now get the same level of benefits they get at Student Health Services from the USF Physicians Group,” said Marisol Hernandez, assistant director of SHS. “Last year we started a collaboration with them, but it was only with their primary clinics. It meant no referrals required, but they still had deductibles and so forth. Now, we have removed the deductibles and basically if you go there, it’s the same level of benefits as Student Health Services.”
BCBS representative Greg Ferguson worked on the new policy for USF and said that the company recognized the advisory board’s needs and wants.
“I think we were responsive to their Intent to Negotiate (ITN),” Ferguson said. “We also went above and beyond what was on the ITN.”
ITN is a formal letter the University sends to providers, informing them that it is entertaining bids for new policies.
The advisory board was required to accept bids for a replacement policy because the contract with Pearce and Pearce ends Aug. 18.
“We indicated what we were looking for from a carrier, and we asked those interested to go ahead and submit a bid,” Hernandez said. “We ended up with eight submissions from different carriers, and from those eight, the committee got together, reviewed all the different bids and we narrowed it down to four.”
Among the final four were Pearce and Pearce, BCBS, Aetna and United. Hernandez said that BCBS is under a two-year contract with the University, but that contract can be renewed for an additional three.
“If everything goes well, we could possibly be with Blue Cross Blue Shield for five years,” she said. “During the second year, for whatever reason, if either party would like to go out or end the agreement, we can.”
Former Student Government Senator Keenan Arodak was a member of the selection committee and was glad to see the University go with BCBS.
“Blue Cross was the best of the bidders we had to deal with,” Arodak said. “Both in terms of price and coverage.”
Arodak said there were other bidders with cheaper plans, but BCBS offered the best plan for the best money. He said that choosing this plan puts USF student coverage with the best policies around the country.
“If you compare it to a lot of the programs that are around the nation, it is very much competitive,” Arodak said. “We looked at Arizona State as one example – they use a different insurer entirely, but coverage itself is the same and UF has a very similar plan, but ours is a little better as far as the out of network goes.”
Arodak, Hernandez and Ferguson said that BCBS’ large provider network was a major selling point. Students that travel outside the Tampa Bay area or the state can receive health care with an 80 percent deductible as long as they stay inside the BCBS network of services. Ninety percent of the nation’s hospitals and 80 percent of the nation’s physicians are contracted with BCBS, according to their Web site.
“The network was a big deal,” Ferguson said. “We wanted to make sure that when they (the students) went home with mom and dad, that a network was available outside of Florida or outside the area. And with our network, they have that not only in Florida, but nationwide.”
Other benefits included in the BCBS plan are a $1,000-a-year prescription benefit with a $20 generic co-pay and a $30 brand-name co-pay, 30 outpatient mental health sessions with a $20 co-pay and unlimited hospital room and board. Under the Pearce and Pearce plan, prescriptions were not covered and outpatient mental health had a lifetime cap of $500.
“I think this plan is similar to what most individuals are used to,” Hernandez said. “It is now a true PPO plan. Our existing one is a hybrid between an HMO and a PPO.”
BCBS will also be providing online resources, which include a weight management program, a stress management program and a smoking cessation program at www.studentinsurancegroup.us.
Students may sign up for the new policy starting at the end of July, Hernandez said, but those interested must apply within 30 days of the institution of the new policy, Aug. 18.