November 19, 2008

Fiscal Downturn Will Not Change Insurance Policy

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In the face of a national economic crisis, the University does not foresee any major changes to the student health insurance plan it offers.
“We do not expect this economic crisis to affect Cornell University policy regarding health insurance,” said Sharon Dittman, associate director of Health Promotion and Community Relations for Gannett.
For those who opt to buy healthcare from Cornell, they may receive a price break. Dittman cited that financial aid for health insurance will be influenced by the fiscal downturn, providing students with adequate resources in a time of need.
“Economic downturn will have an impact on many students’ resources for attending Cornell University, “ Dittman said. “The financial aid office is working very closely with many departments in the University, including the student insurance. It is our firm belief that students require access to health care and insurance in order to strive at Cornell University, accomplishing their personal and academic goals.”
Student health insurance premiums are set based on research conducted by the insurance company, which in Cornell’s case is AETNA Student Health. According to JoAnn Molnar-Kieffer, administrator for the Office of Student Health Insurance, AETNA Student Health looks at past claims experience and other factors to determine the appropriate price to charge students for insurance. Thus, the University does not play a fundamental role in the process. The University, however, does influence the specific plan it offers, deciding which benefits to include.
“Every year, a team of students and faculty reviews the plan to ensure that Cornell is offering the best plan but at a price that is as affordable as possible,” Molnar-Kieffer said.
The premium rate of the Student Health Insurance Plan for Cornell students is $1,514 for the year, with a $271 optional dental plan and a $148 optional vision plan. Every full-time student is enrolled in and billed for SHIP unless they prove they are otherwise insured. Cornell offers health insurance coverage as part of some financial aid packages.
Although it is important to establish an affordable price, the administration wants to ensure that students who experience the misfortune of a medical injury will still be able to complete their education. Without the proper plan, students could be left without coverage in the case of serious injuries or ailments whose expenses could jeopardize their ability to receive an education. Molnar-Kieffer explained the complexity of the decision.
“It’s a balancing act,” Molnar-Kieffer said. “We want to provide a comprehensive plan that covers catastrophic expenses but that is also accessible for all students.”
Similarly, Dittman emphasized the importance of establishing a plan of affordable health care that protects students from mental and physical illness. While Gannett strives to provide affordable care, charging $10 for most services, in the case of serious emergencies, Cornell has decided that students must be protected by health insurance.
“The Board of Trustees decided a couple years ago that every student must have adequate health insurance since there is so much riding on these students’ investment on education,” Dittman said. “If you have to go to the emergency room, you could be hit with a very big hospital bill that neither you nor your family can afford so Cornell policy lists certain requirements that a plan has to provide for the Ithaca area.”
Jorge Marin grad can attest to the dreadfulness of needing a medical operation not insured. While only about one-third of undergraduates are enrolled in the plan, the University enrolls all graduate students in their Student Health Insurance Plan. In his third year, Marin had to get an abscess wisdom tooth extracted, a procedure not covered by SHIP.
“It ended up being about $3,000 to get my teeth fixed,” Marin said. “Teeth are extremely expensive and dangerous to my health since I had an abscess wisdom tooth. It wiped me out in my third year. I’m not deep in debt but I’m a graduate student so I don’t make that much money.”
When it comes to finding such a balance between the plan’s protection and cost, Dittman explained that cooperation between the different parties involved is an essential aspect of the fundamental process. Dittman sees the current plan as a result of these efforts, establishing what she sees as a good deal for Cornell students.
“Cornell works very closely with AETNA Student Health to provide a plan for Cornell students that considers their particular health care needs and the economic relations of being a student at Cornell, “ Dittman said. “Our plan is considered a very good value for health insurance; high quality at a relatively low cost.”
While Dittman realizes that health insurance does not seem like a minor expense to Cornell students, the relatively low cost is a result of the University’s efforts to protect students from exorbitant costs.
“We are very pleased that the increase in the insurance plan has been relatively modest and that the increase in cost of health care had typically outpaced inflation rates,” Dittman said. “I know that the cost is not insignificant to Cornell students but when comparing this plan with comparable plans, you see it’s a very good value.”
The problem of affordable health insurance for the young adult population is not just limited to the Cornell campus, but is a problem that America faces as a nation. Molnar-Kieffer explained that the college-age demographic, or those between 19 and 25, represents the population with the highest percentage of people who lack health insurance coverage in United States.
“These young adults are not eligible for their parents’ plan,” Molnar-Kieffer said. “If they are not in school, then they have a job, which is most likely low-level or part-time. These employment opportunities usually do not come with an insurance plan.”