University finalizes student health insurance plan

by Melissa Lee, University of Nebraska | May 26, 2020

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Following a months-long process guided by a University of Nebraska system-wide committee of students, faculty and staff, the university has finalized details of the 2020-21 student health insurance plan provided by UnitedHealthcare StudentResources.

Details of the 2020-21 plan, which are effective Aug. 1, 2020, through July 31, 2021, were shared with students Friday.

In spite of a challenging time for the healthcare industry that has forced the University of Nebraska, along with most higher education institutions around the country, to manage dramatically rising student premiums, the NU system continues to be able to sponsor a competitive health plan for students, according to Chief Financial Officer Chris Kabourek.

Kabourek thanked the 26-member student health committee for thoughtfully considering and debating the options for the year ahead. The committee's recommendations were unanimously approved by NU's chief business officers, chancellors, president and Board of Regents Business & Finance Committee.

"We knew that we would have no easy choices given the challenges facing our plan. In the end, we had to choose from what might be considered a menu of bad options," Kabourek said. "The committee had a difficult task, but I believe they have guided us to a good outcome under the circumstances. The bottom line is that based on our review, our Platinum-rated plan continues to provide the best coverage for the best value that a student can find on the market today."

Students who are required to purchase health insurance through the university -- including most graduate assistants, international students and full-time UNMC students, who, along with their dependents, collectively make up 80 percent of the plan's 5,500 enrollees - will see only a 2 percent premium increase for 2020-21. The annual premium for a student-only plan, for example, will be $3,119.16, up from $3,057.16.

Deductibles, prescription drug copayments, coinsurance and out-of-pocket maximums will remain unchanged from the current year. Furthermore, no changes are being made to the plan's coverage. The university's student health plan provides medical, dental and prescription drug coverage.

Among the changes for 2020-21, UnitedHealthcare StudentResources will require prior authorization for certain medications in all of its prescription drug programs. Additionally, domestic graduate assistants at UNL, UNO and UNK who wish to waive participation in the university's plan will need to provide documentation of participation in another plan with similar coverage to the UHCSR plan.

Students who enroll in the university-sponsored plan voluntarily will see a significant premium increase next year, the result of a decision to implement a "split premium" approach that will price required and voluntary enrollees differently. Voluntary enrollees make up 20 percent of the plan's enrollees but account for 35 percent of claims spending, a trend that affects all participants under a single premium rate structure. In recent years, the student health plan has also faced declining enrollment, a growing number of high-dollar claims, and significantly higher claims spending then premiums collected.

"This change is difficult. But without it, the future sustainability of our plan was in doubt," Kabourek said.

With the change, premiums for voluntary enrollees will more than double next year. The annual premium for a student-only plan will increase from $3,057.16 to $6,669.16.

Like mandatory enrollees, voluntary enrollees will see no changes to their coverage; and deductibles, prescription drug copayments, coinsurance and out-of-pocket maximums will remain unchanged.

Even with the change, the university-sponsored plan remains competitive on the market. For example, a student-only Gold plan on the healthcare.gov exchange averages about $7,500 per year.

Kabourek said while the university is concerned about pricing trends and may evaluate the sustainability of allowing voluntary enrollment in its plan in the future, NU leaders will continue to explore all available options for maintaining a competitive student plan. A system-wide committee is being formed to study possible paths forward for 2021-22.

In the meantime, alternative health insurance options for students voluntarily enrolled in the plan include:

  • Nebraska residents may be eligible for Medicaid under the state's expanded program beginning Oct. 1, 2020. More information about Medicaid expansion in Nebraska is available here.
  • Nebraska residents under the age of 19, or those with a dependent child under the age of 19, may be eligible for the Nebraska Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP). More information is available here.
  • Students may select a plan from the Affordable Care Act Marketplace and possibly qualify for federal subsidies that would reduce their monthly premium. Choosing not to enroll in the university's plan would create a "qualifying event" that would allow a student to enroll immediately in a new plan from the Marketplace. Marketplace options may be explored here.
  • Edusure, a private health insurance clearinghouse for students, offers individual health plans. Individuals can fill out an application and review options here.
  • Those age 26 or under may be able to obtain health insurance through a parent's plan.
  • Students may be able to obtain health insurance through a spouse's plan.

Detailed information on the 2020-21 student health insurance plan is available on the UNMC website. Students are invited to contact a UnitedHealthcare StudentResources representative at (866) 351-4262 with questions.

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