March 4, 1999
Vol. 18 No. 11

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    Committee reviewing student health insurance plan

    By Jennifer Leovy
    News Office

    This winter, the newly formed Student Medical Insurance Review Committee met to try to determine alternatives to the current Student Medical Plan, which underwent changes following losses the last three years. The review committee plans to identify an alternative this month, which in turn, will be proposed to the University for budgetary approval.

    Edward Turkington, Dean of Student Services, said the University increased student premiums and decreased benefits this year to “staunch the bleeding” of the budget caused by a $3 million deficit accumulated over the last three years. Turkington emphasized the changes “are not to recoup past losses” but to break even for the current year.

    Some students enrolled in the Student Medical Plan initially thought their premium increase was paying for the losses. They formed a group called Save Student Health Insurance to protest plan changes and request a voice in the decision-making process for student health insurance.

    At a meeting in November 1998, SSHI members and Student Services administrators discussed the current and future plans for student health insurance. Student representative Adam Hammond said he believes students need a voice in discussions about their health insurance. “We use it. It should reflect our needs. And we pay for it,” stated Hammond.

    Turkington agreed, noting, “If student insurance doesn’t support students, then it doesn’t work.” Turkington and Art Sussman, General Counsel and Vice President for Administration, have made the students’ voice official by structuring the new review committee to include three students.

    They were selected by a 12-member student advisory committee and are full decision-making members.

    The three student members are Doane Chilcoat, graduate student in Molecular Genetics & Cell Biology; Moses Hohman, graduate student in Physics; and Anne Wolverton, graduate student in History. Committee Chair Beth Harris, General Counsel in the Office of Legal Counsel, is joined by members Christopher Heiser, Associate Dean in the Law School; Richard Rosengarten, Dean of Students in the Divinity School; Nancy Schwartz, Associate Dean for Graduate Affairs, Biological Sciences; and Morton Silverman, Associate Dean of Students and Director of the Student Counseling & Resource Service.

    The history leading to the medical plan changes began in 1990 when the University began a self-insured, student health insurance plan that was structured to break even. In fact, the plan made money for five years––a cumulative surplus of $2.6 million. In response, the University regularly limited premium increases and added benefits. However, during the 1995-96 academic year, benefits utilization increased dramatically, and the plan began to lose money. Concurrently, GM Underwriters, the third-party administrator, began processing claims with what Turkington called “catastrophic inaccuracies.”

    After conducting two audits in 1997, the University replaced GM Underwriters with the Chickering Group, a plan administrator used by approximately 70 colleges and universities. Chickering Group now processes all student claims, including those GM Underwriters did not complete. Last spring, Chickering finished processing the majority of 1996-97 claims, allowing the University to determine the full scope of the loss and the urgent need to modify this year’s plan.

    Turkington said the University used the plan’s prior surplus to cover most of the debt, but how to recover the remaining $400,000 loss––which may reach $600,000 by the end of the plan year––has not been determined.

    Economic viability will be a major determinant in identifying an alternative because currently there is no plan for subsidizing student health insurance. “The predisposition is that it should be a self-supporting plan. If we put money into this, it is money that would have to come from somewhere else,” said Turkington. Most importantly, Turkington said the plan must be finalized by the end of Winter Quarter so students will have time to compare insurance coverage and choose the plan that is best for them.