By CRISTINA DE LA TORRE
Beginning this fall, Mount Mary University mandated student health insurance. This sudden change has caused some confusion.
Students were informed about upcoming changes in mid-April through an email sent by Martha Nelson, former associate dean of student affairs. Students were told that if they did not provide proof of their own health insurance plan by completing the waiver before Aug. 24, 2013 or upon course enrollment, they would automatically be added onto the university’s plan.
The Mount Mary plan is administered by Wisconsin Physicians Services.
Mount Mary’s mandate preceeded the nation’s mandate that requires everyone to have a health insurance provider by Jan. 2014 or pay a tax penalty.
These penalties increase over the next three years.
One can be exempt from paying these penalties if the insurance costs in his or her area are more than 8 percent of one’s taxable income, according to ehealthinsurance.com.
Students do have the option of finding other health insurance providers. With the recent open enrollment for the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as ObamaCare, on Oct. 1, students can get coverage for 2014 if they sign up before Dec. 15 for coverage starting Jan. 1, 2014.
Evelyn Jimenez,Mount Mary graduate student in counseling, is one of the students who enrolled in Mount Mary’s new health insurance policy.
Jimenez became frustrated when WPS referred her to a student health center that Mount Mary does not have. According to WPS, Mount Mary is included in the three-tier provider system. Tier 1 services do not require a deductible, but the services must be provided by a student health center.
Since Mount Mary does not have a student health center, students such as Jimenez are forced to pay out-of-pocket for other Tier 2 providers.
“If we had a nurse and a health center, students would get free health services,” Jimenez said.
Mount Mary did have a student health center in the past, but it was underutilized and closed.
“Mount Mary is always looking for ways to best serve our students, so revisiting the provision of health services is possible if the demand is there,” said Nicole Gahagan, acting dean of student affairs.
Mount Mary is among the minority of schools that does not have its own health center.
“Some schools access services off-campus due to partnerships. I think Mount Mary could benefit from exploring a multiple of different options,” Gahagan said.
In the meantime, students have to become educated about what their plan actually covers under the Tier 2 options.
This new insurance mandate has increased financial aid costs for students who signed up for the university’s plan or who did not complete the health insurance waiver.
Additional funding, in the form of student loans, such as the Perkins Loans, is available for students who qualify, and has already been included in some financial aid packages, according to Kate Allen, financial aid office secretary.
“It would be nice if the school provided some services such as free flu shots or information on health and the different insurances available for people with a low budget,” Jimenez said.
Mount Mary is working on creating an informational seminar for students addressing their health insurance concerns and effective use of the coverage offered. The aim for this seminar is to start is before the end of the fall semester.