April 21, 2009

Cost of University health plan will increase next year

The cost of the current student health insurance plan is anticipated to increase 7 to 10 percent next year without additional benefits, according to an assessment delivered by the Student Health Insurance Committee (SHIC) at a town hall meeting held April 15 in the Bartlett Trophy Lounge. The presentation focused on cost and efficiency increases, as well as a proposal that would change the SCC’s referral requirements, expand mental health out-patient benefits, and add sex reassignment surgery to covered procedures—all of which would further increase costs.

The U of C’s insurance premium is $1,845 a year, whereas those at peer institutions range between $1,404 and $3,024 a year. Some factors, like the number of students enrolled on the plan and the rising national costs of health care, are beyond the University’s control and will account for the increase anticipated for next year.The committee will send out e-mail surveys to students to see if the coverage of sex reassignment surgery is generally endorsed on campus. The current student insurance plan covers pre-surgery hormonal therapy and counseling associated with reassignment, but not the surgery itself.

“The inclusion of sex reassignment surgery represents an important benefit, but for a small number of students. The quoted increase in premium for the benefit to cover up to $100,000 would be 1.5 percent,” said Teresa Hord Owens, dean of students and SHIC chair, in an e-mail interview. “While students from whom we have received feedback support this benefit, they have also raised the question about whether such an increase in premium should be levied against all students on the plan to support such a potentially small number who would benefit.”

Coverage of sex reassignment surgery is not widespread across the country, but has been adopted by five of the University of California schools, among others. A report by the LGBT Resource Center at University of California, Riverside, cited fears of mental health problems suffered by students unable to receive surgery; that students might not have access to proper medical care outside the student health plan; and that their academic work would deteriorate if they are unable to receive the medical attention they require.

“Being a full-time student and working to pay for the costs of living can be overwhelming at times in itself, but for a student struggling to cope with conflicting gender issues, this makes even seemingly simple tasks unbearable,” wrote one student in the Riverside report

Fourth-year and SHIC member Zoe Hruban noted that there was general support for the suggestion at the meeting, but that there was more support for changes in SCC referral policies and a mental health parity. “Research on sex-reassignment surgery indicates that College can be a good time for individuals to transition. Since the hormone treatment and counseling associated with the insurance are already covered, if we add the surgery, students will be able to transition,” Hruban said in an e-mail interview. “This is also a way to support and demonstrate support to these students on campus.”

Hruban added that in the end, most students are worried about increasing prices.

“The big concern with student insurance is cost,” Hruban said in an e-mail interview. “Many students who are undergraduates or who are young do not have many health needs, so they are generally concerned with the high cost of the premium. It seems expensive to pay so much for something they are not really using.”

SHIC is composed of faculty and staff, as well as students appointed by Student Government and the administration. The committee meets regularly to discuss concerns with the current insurance plan and to investigate the costs and benefits of changes to the current plan, which is optional for students who have outside insurance plans.The University’s plan will change depending on the feedback received from students, and should be announced to students in the next four to five weeks.