Insurance protects students

By Melissa Blake

NIU has not followed a nationwide trend of universities requiring students to buy health insurance, but NIU does charge $233.70 per semester for health insurance to international students and any student taking nine or more credit hours.

Public universities such as the University of Connecticut, Montana State University and Ohio State University require students to purchase the university’s insurance, “a move aimed at saving the uninsured from huge bills and college hospitals from getting stuck with the cost,” according to the Associated Press.

NIU Student Health Insurance charges are automatically included on Bursar bills at the start of every semester. Students must take the initiative to opt out within the first 15 calendar days of the semester by completing a waiver form and providing proof of outside coverage: an insurance card or verification letter.

Currently, 9,000 students have NIU insurance, and one in five have other coverage as well, Crosby said. Being doubly insured means that NIU’s insurance will pick up expenses a family plan does not cover, said Regina Crosby, manager of the Student Insurance Office.

The current cost is a 66-percent, or $92.87, increase from $140.83 in 1990. The spring coverage includes the summer semester. Under the plan, there is a $250 deductible and the insurance will pay 80 percent after the deductible has been met. NIU’s insurance covers injuries and sicknesses 24 hours a day, anywhere in the world, Crosby said.

If a student must drop out of school for medical reasons and the student has paid for the insurance, he or she can keep the insurance, she said.

“Compared to medical inflation in general, it’s a very good value for the money,” Crosby said. “NIU students are well taken care of by the university when they come here.”

NIU does not plan to require students to buy its health insurance.

“It’s not something that has been on the table to discuss at all,” said Beverly Espe, acting director of Health Services.

Crosby said mandatory coverage is positive in that if everyone is under the plan, the overall cost would decrease for all students, she said.

Espe said she supports the intent of mandatory insurance because uninsured students can put a strain on the community.

The rising cost of health care is also causing more and more people to become uninsured, Crosby said. If students end up in the hospital, it disrupts their education, and they could walk away with $100,000-worth of medical bills.

In 2003, the average cost of private insurance for a family plan was $9,068, said Pat Schoeni, executive director for the National Coalition on Health Care, “the nation’s largest and most broadly representative alliance working to improve America’s health care,” according to its Web site. By 2006, that figure is expected to be more than $14,000.

In addition, Americans’ out-of-pocket expenses for health care increased 26 percent from 1995 to 2001, to $2,182, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Senior English major Claudia Wilson has NIU’s insurance but would be opposed to mandatory insurance. Wilson said she thinks it is unfair for a school to require students to buy its insurance when they could get a better deal elsewhere.

“I don’t agree, simply because there are students [who] have insurance through other means,” she said.

Sophomore business major Erik Mercado is one of those students. He is covered through his parents’ insurance. Mercado said he thought it was terrible that some schools require university insurance.

“It’s not in the cards for [some] people,” he said.

The Student Insurance Office is accepting bids for alternative insurance carriers.

“Bidding assures students that they will get the best value for [their] money,” Crosby said. “[It] allows [Student Insurance] to see what’s out there.”

The office has written a proposal of criteria and sent it to insurance vendors across the country, Crosby said. Those vendors will respond with a proposal of projected costs.

The Board of Trustees will meet to vote on next year’s insurance plan from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. March 24 in the Board of Trustees Conference Room, Room 315 of Altgeld Hall.