Refunds denied for mandatory insurance

The University will not refund hundreds of students who were forced to pay for a full year of GW’s health insurance even though they will graduate three months before the plan expires.

As part of a mandatory insurance plan, about 4,000 students were automatically charged $2,200, plus additional thousands for dependents, last July. Senior Associate Dean of Students Mark Levine said last week that it is not possible to refund graduating students for the extra months of coverage, despite backlash.

“Many students continue to use the health insurance benefits locally or at home, including internationally, during the summer months,” Levine said in an email.

The insurance fees applied to international, medical, public health and nursing students, many of whom say they plan to leave the U.S. after graduation.

International graduate student Shashwat Gautam said the extra three months come out to $518 per student, on top of charges for dependents like wives or children.

Gautam and Shirley Hsieh, both members of the Student Association, have lobbied for GW to modify its mandatory health care policy since last summer, when thousands of students saw charges on their bills even if they already had health care coverage.

Gautam and Hsieh created a 17-page report last semester outlining changes for the program, the cornerstone of which was a refund. About 1,800 students opted out of the plan last semester after proving to Aetna that they had a previous insurance plan. About 2,300 students are still covered by the plan, University spokeswoman Michelle Sherrard said last week.

She said she is not sure of how many students on the plan will graduate because not everyone has applied for graduation. Last year, more than 1,000 medical, public health and nursing students graduated, including hundreds of international students.

Second-year graduate MBA student Fatih Saglik, said he is “really pissed off,” about the coverage. He said he will return home to Turkey in May, but must continue paying $1,381 for himself and an additional $3,867 for his seven-months pregnant wife.

“I don’t get why they make me buy health insurance for the summer, from which I won’t be benefiting at all,” Saglik said. He said his wife is due in April and the costlier coverage will make it difficult to keep the new family afloat under a tight budget.

Siddharth Dugar, a second-year MBA student from India, said that while Aetna has a branch in his home country, it would be cheaper to purchase from a provider back home.

“It’s really expensive, and we don’t have the option,” Dugar said.

Gautam said because it has been six months since he submitted his initial proposal to alter the health plans, he has “lost hope” that his other recommendations, including establishing an Aetna contact point on campus for students and offering alternate affordable packages, will ever gain ground.

“After putting in so much effort, with such an elaborate document and meeting with every single senior administrator, and having them promise, it’s pretty disappointing,” Gautam said.

Gautam tried reaching out to administrators via email at the end of January, but said he never received a direct response. He was also in contact with Student Association President Ashwin Narla, who agreed to address these concerns at his next meeting with the administration.

In the last few months, the University has extended the deadline to apply for a waiver, expanded the exemption criteria for these waivers, and increased communication efforts, Levine said.

But Gautam said increased communication is not enough. He added that the University failed to fully explain the policy to the student body, and after he setup an email account to answer insurance questions last semester, more than 100 students reached out to him.

“We did the work that Student Health Service should be doing for students,” Gautam said.

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