Research health insurance options before graduation

Usually students have never had to think about health insurance because they were probably covered in their parents’. But a significant group of students do not have any coverage. Eventually, students will need to find their own health insurance plans after graduation.

And students should do it quickly or it could lead to huge out-of-pocket medical expenses and even eventual bankruptcy if the debt is high enough. Students who have no insurance should start looking at options now to avoid any potential problems.

The most convenient way for students to have insurance, next to being covered by their parents’ plan, is through the university’s health care plan. Student Health Services offers all university students the opportunity to have health care for $645 per year.

“The price of the insurance has nothing to do with age or sex,” Marisol Amarante-Hernandez, a student insurance coordinator, said. “The only prerequisites to get insurance is that undergraduate students have to be registered for six credits and graduate students have to be in a degree-seeking program.”

Student Health Services offers coverage similar to types found through major carriers. It also has some of the same stipulations that major health care companies impose, like having a six-month pre-existing conditions clause. This clause means that if a student already has an existing health problem when they are purchasing insurance, they will not be covered for that health condition until six months from when coverage was purchased.

Another similarity between the universities insurance program and many others is the need to use their participating provider network to receive the full benefits of the plan.

“Student Health Services is the primary location that students should use unless there is an emergency or we refer you to a specialist through the provider network,” Amarante-Hernandez said. “The only way for students to receive full benefits and not see a network provider or come directly to us is if the physician’s office is outside of a 20-mile radius. It’s a common misconception for students to think that it depends on where they live and not on the location of the doctor’s office.”

USF’s health care provider is Pearce and Pearce. Students were previously covered under North Carolina Mutual, but in mid-August when that company became threatened with financial problems, it dropped the university.

Some of the benefits with university healthcare plans are that they are convenient because of location and have doctors on call even when the office is closed.

Another advantage is a student has been insured under their parents’ plan and they are removed, he or she can transfer to USF’s plan within the 63-day gap, then the preexisting conditions clause is waved. Thirty days are recommended to ensure a smooth transition.

“It’s very important for students to have consistent health care and we provide these services because we would hate to see a student have to end their academic career because of medical bills — it’s important in the event that something happens you have coverage,” Amarante-Hernandez said.

Student Health Services is open to all students and not just those with insurance from USF. However, they do not accept outside insurance plans. Students can get a claim form showing procedures and diagnostics to send to their personal provider for reimbursement.

During the 2002-03 school year, 4,000 out of about 38,000 students received insurance from Student Health Services.

A national survey of college and graduate school students conducted by Sigma Research Management Group of Cincinnati for Humana Inc. shows that the majority of students who participated in the survey indicated that they are currently insured in some way while attending school. Of those, most are covered under their parents’ health insurance plan with the remainder covered by a university plan, an employer or an individual plan. More than a quarter of those surveyed did not know if the coverage they currently have would continue after graduation.

But Mark Mathis, a corporate communications manager of Humana, said students typically lose eligibility for health insurance once they graduate.

“If a recent graduate is no longer covered under his or her parents plan, and it takes a few months to find a job with employer sponsored coverage, then they are putting themselves at serious financial risk if they get sick,” Mathis said.

Nearly nine out of 10 college and graduate students surveyed say that they are concerned about not having health insurance after graduation. Yet, nearly one-third of those students are unsure if they will obtain coverage after graduation, citing issues like job uncertainty and affordability of coverage. Students attending college and graduate school in 46 states answered the online survey conducted in May of this year.

Eighty-six percent of the 425 students surveyed said that they would be somewhat or extremely concerned about not having health insurance. Only two percent were not concerned at all. Of those students concerned about lack of health coverage, almost half mentioned the high cost of health care as the main reason for their concern.

“The reason that Humana wanted to have this survey done was to gauge what students want and need from health insurance,” Mathis said. “From this, we created a new kind of plan to fit a need we saw in the population.”

Humana’s new plan is called HumanaOne College Graduate Health Plan, and it offers a long-term health plan to recent graduates, a rate that is reduced by 43 percent for up to the first six months, at which time it returns to the normal rate.

“This plan is currently available in eight states; unfortunately, it’s not available in Florida yet,” Mathis said. “Each state regulates the insurance industry and we need to work with regulatory agencies within each state to file the new plans.”

One thing that students can do to at least have temporary insurance after graduation is to buy the university’s plan before they graduate.

“If a student is graduating in May, then I recommend buying the insurance for a year because it doesn’t expire until the full year of coverage is up; this will safeguard students from not being insured before their employers’ insurance kicks in,” Amarante-Hernandez said.

There are a few things that are evident when it comes to health coverage. Coverage is important; not having it can lead to financial ruin. Also, there are many choices when it comes to coverage.

“The best advice that I can give is to compare carriers, be familiar with your plan, ask questions up front, and read any and all documentation that comes with the plan because they do vary widely,” Mathis said. “Another good choice is to seek some help in the form of a licensed independent broker; they can help you sort out your choices.”

For more information regarding health insurance though Student Health Services call 974-5407 or go to the Student Health Services Annex around the corner from the book buyback in the Marshal Center.