Students fire back at mandatory insurance

by Allison Kowalski

Correction appended

Student lobbyists are demanding that the University pull back the health insurance policy it forced more than 3,000 students to pay for this summer.

International students and those in the medical, nursing and public health schools – who are required to have health insurance – must pay at least $2,200 for the University plan. Student Association leaders are demanding that the University allow students to use their own insurance policies.

This year’s policy, which expanded coverage, costs about 40 percent more than those from previous years, SA members Shirley Hsieh and Shashwat Gautam said. The University did not announce the mandated insurance plan through the health insurance provider Aetna until July, students said – after all students, even though who already had insurance, were charged.

The new plan, in line with the Affordable Care Act, is to cover full contraception and preventative coverage for problems like depression, alcoholism and drug addiction. It also covers medication costs up to $100,000 and provides a $2 million injury insurance.

Hsieh and Gautam submitted a 17-page report to student health administrators last week, calling on GW to give students a way out of the costly plan, saying it costs $400 a year more than plans at 21 other schools studied. They also requested a simpler appeals process, which is handled by the provider Aetna.

“Students are in a cycle because they cannot pre-decide or compare plans without buying them,” Gautam said.

They said dozens of students – particularly graduate students who must also pay for family members added to their plans – have tried to appeal the mandate.

“For me, it’s more important that there’s no alternatives – there’s no freedom of choice,” Hsieh, SA director of international students, said.

Mohibul Islam, a graduate student from Bangladesh, said the insurance company did not recognize his coverage through his father’s employer, the Embassy of Bangladesh. He filed an appeal Aug. 27 with Aetna but has not yet heard back.

“The waiver process is supposed to be for people who have a legitimate level of coverage. I have that, but I’m being denied a waiver. There is no clear way to engage Aetna on this issue – I’ve reached out to them, and they’ve just ignored me,” he said.

Student Health Service administrator Tracy Boswell said the University will consider the students’ proposal and respond in the next two weeks. But Gautam said he is concerned by what he has heard from administrators.

“What we found was there was no involvement of the student body, and it seemed like a completely arbitrary decision done by Student Health Service without taking surveys of the student body,” Gautam said.

This article was updated Sept. 25, 2012 to reflect the following:
The Hatchet reported that the health insurance plan through GW costs $400 more per month than plans at 21 other schools. In fact, the plan costs $400 more yearly than the other plans.

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