March 20, 2014

International Students Required to Buy Cornell Student Insurance Plan

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Beginning in the 2014 to 2015 academic year, the University will require all international students to purchase the Cornell Student Health Insurance Plan as a result of some international students purchasing “insufficient” plans that potentially rack up thousands of dollars in medical costs, officials say.

“Historically, we have had issues and concerns with international students buying travel-type individual plans,” said student insurance administrator Jo Ann Molnar-Kieffer, a member of the University’s Student Insurance Advisory Committee. “We tried addressing those with communication and trying to guide people into making informed purchase decisions.”

The decision was ultimately made at the end of last semester to make purchasing SHIP mandatory. According to Valerie Lyon, associate director of business and finance at Gannett Health Services, around 90 percent of international students have already been purchasing SHIP without being required, and several peer institutions — including Ohio State and Carnegie Mellon University — have altered their policies to make university health plans the norm.

“Many [international students] are not familiar with the high cost of healthcare in the U.S.,” Molnar-Kieffer said. “They may purchase an inadequate insurance plan for $1,000 and consider that purchase price their out-of-pocket-expense. However, when such a plan has numerous exclusions, they find out they have to

pay thousands and thousands of dollars on top of the purchase price.”

According to Craig McAllister, director of Risk Management and Insurance and chair of the Student Insurance Advisory Committee, the minimum federal insurance requirement for travelers to the United States does not cover most expenses outside of emergencies or medical evacuation.

“[That kind of coverage] has always been inadequate for long-term study at Cornell,” he said.

McAllister also said SHIP’s yearly cost of $2,212 is a better deal for international students than any other plan that offers the same coverage on the current healthcare marketplace under the Affordable Care Act, since non-American residents do not qualify for most subsidies. He said that the SHIP requirement was established to simplify the process of getting economical coverage, something he says many international students may not be familiar with.

“The systems in other countries vary from national insurance to areas where everybody’s covered and people don’t really have to think about it much to areas where there is no insurance and people are used to pay[ing] a small amount all [out] of pocket for doctor or physician care,” McAllister said. “We know that we’re the most expensive area in the world for healthcare.”

Brendan O’Brien, director of the International Students and Scholars Office, said that he wants international students to view healthcare as a “required cost for education in the U.S.” that needs to be incorporated into their budgets.

“International students are sometimes very, very surprised at the cost of healthcare in the U.S.,” O’Brien said. “We want to do everything we can to ensure that they have adequate coverage, so that they’re able to focus on their academic programs, that they can get the services that they need and that they don’t have financial problems as a result of healthcare bills.”

International students said they were of mixed opinion over the new requirement.

“I personally don’t use the plan a lot,” Roshni Mehta ’15 said. “In fact, I find it an unnecessary burden. But it is insurance and required for safety. So it’s a lose-lose situation for me.”

Gizem Sakalli ’14, however, said she thinks the plan is “a good option from the University’s perspective.”

Shivang Tayal ’16 said the requirement may end up costing some students more money and said he believes that allowing room for other options, such as plans held by family members, should still be considered.

“While it is well-intentioned and comprehensive health insurance plan, making the SHIP compulsory for internationals may have a huge financial cost on those internationals who might get similar benefits through another insurance plan,” he said.