We’ve recently had Metro State students looking for alternative health insurance plans that would meet the specifications that the college requires in order to waive the school-sponsored health insurance policy. Metro State’s student health insurance policy has decent coverage, especially compared with a lot of the health insurance plans offered by other colleges in Colorado. The coverage is $665 per semester, which is not unreasonable, especially considering the low deductible. But that doesn’t mean that it’s a good fit for every student.
Last year, we found that very few individual health insurance policies in Colorado would meet CSU’s waiver requirements for grad students. When we started looking into alternative options for Metro State students, we found only one policy met the requirements. Although Metro State has overall a more lenient waiver requirement list than other schools, they do require more extensive mental health coverage than market driven individual health insurance policies include. The only option that meets their requirements is the Smart Sense policy from Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield.
We do understand the logic behind requiring college students to have health insurance. College students tend to be young adults, in the demographic that is more likely to forgo health insurance if left to their own devices. And a major illness or injury can derail not only their academic plans, but their whole financial future. So we support the system that most colleges have chosen to use, with automatic enrollment in a health insurance policy unless the student can show proof of alternate coverage.
One Metro State student said:
I will say that Metro should offer more options than one type of insurance plan. The students at Metro don’t fit into one age bracket. So where one ins. plan my be acceptable for some, it cannot fit the needs of such a diverse age group! I hope that Metro will change this ruling with their health insurance plan soon. I know I have spent more time on the phone looking for a comparable ins. plan than anyone should have to! There are better things to do with my time…. like STUDY for my classes so I will be able to get a better job that has fantastic insurance benefits.
Perhaps the school could add a higher deductible plan for students who understand the definition of insurance.
We contacted Martha Eaton, the head of Metro State’s Student health insurance office, to get her take on the waiver requirements:
The College waiver standards, which include minimum requirements for mental health coverage, have been established based on the demographic needs of our population over the years and the associated expenses for mental health services. Colleges throughout the country establish their own set of minimum waiver requirements for their particular institution, many of which are much more restrictive than Metro State’s minimum standards. As health care cost continue to escalate in the United States, it is more likely that colleges will raise their minimum standards, rather than lowering them. The importance of adequate mental health benefits cannot be underestimated, however, many individual insurance plans attempt to shortchange the consumer by inadequately providing either little or no mental health benefits. Individual insurance plans would be prudent to cover mental health care as they do all other medical conditions.
Ms. Eaton makes some good points, and we do recognize that not only is Metro State’s student health insurance policy better than many other student health insurance plans in Colorado, the overall requirements for a waiver are indeed lenient. But because of the mental health benefit requirement, nearly all of the individual health insurance policy options in Colorado are eliminated as options for students at Metro State. Ms. Eaton makes a valid point about mental health deserving as much consideration under health insurance policies as any other medical conditions. But as finance professor at CSU, Vickie Bajtelsmit, points out in her article “Don’t Insure The Small Stuff“:
A general rule of thumb for insurance is that you should never insure against losses you can easily budget for.
Individual health insurance policies in Colorado do not cover mental health as extensively as the Metro State policy for a reason. Mental health isn’t something that typically turns catastrophic. The reason for insurance is to protect yourself from catastrophic events.
The problem with the Metro State logic for the $10,000 minimum mental health coverage requirement is that they are saying they think $10,000 worth of mental health expenses is too much for students to handle. Yet for conditions that pose a catastrophic risk, the Metro State health insurance policy appears to have a $10,000 out-of-pocket maximum (based on “Out of Pocket Limit” on Page 8 of the MSCD Brochure). The following conditions seem to require the student to pay 20% after the $300 deductible until the student reaches their $10,000 Out-of-Pocket Limit:
- – Inpatient Room & Board and Hospital Miscellaneous Benefit
- – Inpatient Surgery
- – Outpatient Surgery
- – Physiotherapy (Physical Therapy)
- – Dental Treatment for an Accidental Injury
- – Durable Medical Equipment
- – Medical Emergency Room Services
- – Home Health Care
- – TMJ
Another risk to the students is because the Metro State health insurance policy is set up for students, the coverage will end once a student is no longer enrolled in classes. If a student suffers a serious illness or injury while enrolled in the Metro State health insurance policy, he or she will likely have to seek guaranteed issue health insurance coverage once the student health insurance policy is no longer in force. This would mean being limited to more expensive health insurance coverage through an employer-sponsored group plan, or Cover Colorado.
In addition, some students would prefer to choose a less expensive policy. While the Metro State policy does provide a good value for students who can afford it, there are people who would rather buy an HSA qualified high deductible health plan, with good catastrophic coverage, but no bells and whistles. What would happen if I were to decide to obtain an additional degree at this point in my life? I currently have an HSA qualified plan that perfectly meets my family’s needs, but does not have as much mental health coverage as Metro State requires (nor does it have the maternity coverage that CSU requires). I would have to cancel my coverage and enroll in the Metro State plan or the Anthem Smart Sense plan. This would be frustrating to say the least, and I would feel as if I were being treated like a child.
I can absolutely understand the position that colleges take when they require students to have health insurance. And I would fully support requirements that students provide proof of some sort of “real” health insurance (as opposed to discount plans, accident supplements, cancer policies, etc.) For students who don’t care one way or the other and are happy to have the college take care of their health insurance, the student health insurance plan is a good option. But some students have done their own research and found an individual health insurance policy that better fits their needs and/or budget, and they would prefer to be given the option of keeping that policy instead. For those students, we feel that colleges should reconsider their waiver requirements and treat their students as adults who are capable of making their own decisions.