Student Health Services accepts private insurance

Students with private health insurance won’t have to pay
out-of-pocket when visiting Student Health Services (SHS) anymore. SHS now accepts multiple insurance providers, instead of only the
USF-sponsored health plan.

This means that going to the clinic will be cheaper for students and they will no longer have to seek reimbursement for SHS clinical services from their private providers.

“What you’ll experience if you come into Student Health — if you have private insurance — will be a lot like when you visit your family physician,” said Harold Bower, director of business and operations at SHS.

In previous years, SHS only accepted the USF-sponsored student health insurance program as payment for services at the SHS clinic, while students with private insurance plans had to pay upfront or were provided with an insurance reimbursement claim form. Bower said this traditional college health approach presented many difficulties to those with private insurance coverage.

“There are many students who have a good plan available to them but can’t use it on campus,” he said.

SHS decided to accept other forms of insurance in order to alleviate students and parents of financial stress while still offering healthcare and creating an extra source of revenue for the University, Bower said.

Though the Florida Student Associaton and the College Parents of America have supported this policy in the past, SHS has been unable to provide students with this option until recently.

“Significant barriers to accepting private insurance existed,” Bower said.  “Private insurers expressed little interest in working with student health clinics.” 

There was also the issue of the cost to establish and operate an insurance billing practice, he said. Though it is uncertain how much the billing practice would ultimately cost SHS, it would be another expense the organization would have to grapple with during a time of University-wide budget cuts.

Despite these barriers, Student Affairs administrators tasked SHS to find a way to increase on-campus access to existing health insurance benefits for students with private insurance in a cost-effective manner, Bower said. 

Tracy Tyree, assistant vice president of Student Affairs who supervises SHS, said Student Affairs wanted to make sure students wouldn’t let their insurance provider keep them from getting the help they needed.

“There are students who otherwise didn’t get the extent, perhaps, of health care their situation warranted because there was a cost involved,” she said.

USF Health will work with SHS to help it overcome some of the obstacles, such as providing insurance billing services.

This collaboration saves SHS, and therefore students, money. It’s less expensive for SHS to use USF Health’s system because USF Health charges the organization less than a private company would.

“For all the money Student Health Services gets from insurance companies, the company that processes that information would take money off the top,” said Joseph Jackson, director of managed care and clinical facilities at USF Health. “USF Health takes a fraction of that.”

Also, SHS can make money by accepting other forms of insurance. This policy makes SHS more attractive to students while allowing SHS to bill
insurance companies instead of relying on students to pay out of pocket.

Bower explained that this creates a new revenue stream for USF that reduces reliance on health fees.  Also, this new system “achieves economies of scale by using existing capacity at USF Health for credentialing, regulatory compliance, billing and technology at the lowest possible cost to SHS.”

While he doesn’t see any direct drawbacks to the new system, Bower said there will be some challenges to face.

“Collecting and verifying private insurance is a new activity to SHS and must be efficiently incorporated into existing
workflows,” he said.

A challenge for students would be the need to become more familiar with their plans in order to make the most of their benefits at SHS. They must also be patient with new processes at the SHS clinic until the staff becomes more proficient with the new workflow, Bower said.

Overall, students have had a positive reaction to this new system.

“Anything that will make health care more convenient and available for students is a welcome change,” said Tyler Myers, a sophomore majoring in sociology.

Brianna McClenithan, a sophomore majoring in music education, said her studies require her to see a doctor anytime she experiences soreness in her throat.

“Honestly, I think I’ll go more often, instead of only in emergency situations, now that I know it won’t drain my wallet each time,” she said.

SHS now accepts more than 100 plans, including United HealthCare, Humana, AvMed, Blue Cross/Blue Shield and Tricare, Bower said.