Insurance refunds to cause changes

By Paul Wagner

A trend of increasing refunds for NIU’s health insurance will leave students with a choice of paying higher for coverage or the elimination of refunds.

Insurance carriers for NIU have paid more than they made in premiums in three of the last six fiscal years. In 1986, NIU’s insurance company took in $910,902 but paid out $1,659,077 in claims.

Insurance carriers prefer to pay out only about 75 percent of what they make in premiums, said Dana Mills, associate director of University Health Service. As a result, insurance carriers are starting to view NIU as a risk.

Full-time students are billed $65.52 each semester for health insurance, an increase of $24.36 from fiscal year 1988. Most of that increase went to pay emergency room costs at Kishwaukee Community Hospital which used to be covered by a separate student fee. These costs now are included in the insurance.

The health center will offer refunds to students until the end of January with proof of equal or better coverage.

Students who opt for the refund are eligible to use the health center but must pay emergency or outside care costs from their own insurance.

Mills said a trend of more students asking for their money back could drive up the cost for those who remain in the plan. Last fall, the health center refunded about a total of $31,650 to more than 4,800 students. That amounts to more than 35 percent of the total sales.

Under the current contract, rates in the fall of 1989 could jump as high as $78.54 if Health Care Service Corporation, NIU’s present carrier, loses money on claims.

A further complication is that when insurance rates climb, so do the number of refunds. In 1986, when insurance cost $28.56 per semester, 4,592 refunds were granted. But in 1988 when insurance was $41.16 per semester, 7,580 refunds were granted.

With the $65.52 fee, 4,832 students got their money back last semester. If the same students get refunds again this semester, FY89 refunds will total about 9,600.

“If taken to the extreme, all we will have left in the plan are students who have moderate to severe medical problems who intend to use the plan heavily,” Mills said.

NIU officials have started to discuss restricting or even eliminating insurance refunds entirely, but Jon Dalton, vice president for student affairs, said, “The issue is one for students to decide.” It is a choice of higher premiums or fewer refunds.

According to an Oct. 5 article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, insurance premiums at universities nationwide average $175 to $250 per year. NIU’s yearly cost is $162.24.

Mills said it does not matter to him whether students choose to pay for the NIU plan or carry their own insurance. “I just hope it is an informed choice.”

The decision to restrict refunds was brought before the Student Association Senate late last semester, but no action was taken at that meeting.