UI evaluates necessity for SHIP
The University of Idaho is reviewing the value of its Student Health Insurance Program after the Idaho State Board of Education (SBOE) recently decided to no longer require universities to provide students with an option for health insurance, determining students could find less expensive coverage on the Idaho Health Exchange.
“In reviewing the program over time, the board saw that there was declining student participation in the SHIP program, which in part was causing premium prices for those students who did participate to go up,” said Blake Youde, chief communications and legislative affairs officer for the SBOE. “At the same time, the board saw that with the new health exchange in the State of Idaho, or as it’s commonly referred to as Your Health Idaho, was able to provide health care coverage to students at a cost that was less than what the SHIP programs could provide it.”
The SBOE still requires all full-time students be covered by Affordable Care Act (ACA) compliant health insurance, but universities don’t have to provide an insurance option, according to the change.
UI will require all degree-seeking undergraduate students enrolled in 12 or more regular credits, graduate and law students enrolled in nine or more regular credits and all international students to provide proof of health insurance prior to the first day of classes in the fall, according to UI’s policy.
Youde said Idaho’s universities are responsible for deciding whether to continue SHIP programs, and four universities have already decided to discontinue their programs starting in fall 2016, based on increased premiums.
“The institutions that have elected not to provide it next fall are already working with students, offering assistance in applying through Your Health Idaho to get it,” Youde said. “The exchange itself has been very successful in enrolling people for insurance and has really become a model in the U.S., from what I’ve seen and heard.”
Youde said the SBOE has not received any negative feedback about this decision. He said the board felt comfortable with the change, because students at institutions who elected not to provide SHIP had lower-cost alternatives available to them.
“The board believes that it’s good policy to require students to have health insurance coverage, and this decision was made because, after review, they saw that there were good alternatives out there that were cheaper than the SHIP program being offered,” Youde said. “So it made sense to let the institutions determine — they know their student body best — whether they should maintain the program or help students find other options.”
Greg Tatham, UI assistant vice provost for student affairs, said UI is leaning toward keeping the program, but hasn’t made a final commitment yet.
“With the new laws, people are still required to have health insurance under ACA, and there are some criteria there and some thresholds, mainly financial thresholds,” Tatham said. “So the cost is still going to be there. Now, you can go on the exchange, and you can get a health insurance policy that, monthly cost, may be lower than what we offer in our SHIP program, but at the same time you get what you pay for.”
Although the evaluation this year is more thorough than usual, Tatham said UI does evaluate the SHIP program every year.
“In the past, we’ve just evaluated the cost compared to the benefits and then, if we kept the same benefits and the cost was going to be too high, then we adjust the benefits to make the cost affordable for folks,” he said. “We do that evaluation when we do our renewal every year, and we try to keep as high quality a product for as reasonable a cost as we can, knowing that there’s just a limited number of dollars that are out there available to students to do that.”
Tatham said students may have negative perceptions about insurance plans provided by universities, which he thinks may have played into the decisions of other universities to drop SHIP programs.
“The main reason, in my estimation, that they did it was they felt it was cumbersome and they also felt that students saw their individual student health insurance programs that are offered by the institution as an additional cost of going to school, rather than just an additional cost of life in general, so they decided to drop that,” he said.
Although the monthly payment for SHIP is higher, Tatham said the high deductibles and copays for less expensive plans on the insurance exchange mean any insurance claim will be more costly for students. He said he is also concerned about students who may not have health insurance next year.
“I’m sure, since the board has changed its policy and only full-time, full-fee-paying students are going to be required to have insurance, we’re going to have part-time students and students that are under the threshold, and they’re under the threshold of the affordable care act mandate, that go uninsured, and that worries me a lot, but we’re still here to take care of everybody,” Tatham said. “That’s our main goal, is making sure our students stay healthy, and can continue and receive their degrees and move on to their professions.”