Under new health care law, GW expects students to drop off insurance plan

A flood of students may ditch GW’s health care plan once the Affordable Care Act kicks into effect next month, with average plans in D.C., Maryland and Virginia costing about one-quarter less.

The University’s plan charges students about $227 a month – which is 30 percent more than average plans in D.C., 40 percent more than average plans in Maryland and 70 percent more than average plans in Virginia. Experts say graduate students are more likely to bet on their good health and choose a cheaper health plan with higher out-of-pocket costs for specialized care.

Teresa Koster, president of higher education healthcare consulting company Gallagher Koster, said for students, “affordability is number one” even if the pricier plans offer more extensive coverage.

Monthly rates for plans that insurers expect to cover about 70 percent of health costs average $180 in D.C., $135 in Virginia and $168 in Maryland, all close to the national average.

If many students drop GW’s plan, Koster said SHS would need more funding from the University to make sure the quality of services stay on par. They could also lose relationships with other doctors’ offices across the District, making it harder for SHS physicians to refer students to strong specialists.

“If you have fewer students on the student plan and more students showing up, it’s going to be more expensive for the student and more costly for the student health center from a revenue perspective,” said Koster, whose company consults with 200 universities nationwide.

Koster pointed to many small colleges that stopped providing student insurance entirely because students have chosen federal or state plans instead.

Isabel Goldenberg, director of Student Health Service, said that while the University’s plan is more expensive than many plans offered through the health care system’s open exchanges, it can cover more costly claims, like paying for up to $100,000 in medication and $2 million for injury insurance.

“We have a very robust insurance plan,” Goldenberg said, pointing to the plan’s $300 maximum out-of-pocket charge for specialized services outside of SHS.

Dean of Student Affairs Peter Konwerski also said he expects more undergraduates to leave the plan and join their parents’ plans, since children can now be covered on a family plan until they are 26 years old. The University does not track how many undergraduates are on its health plan voluntarily.

Still, Goldenberg said the law “has the potential to increase voluntary enrollment in the student plan” if students choose GW’s more expensive option, although they will not know until health coverage exchanges open next month.

Graduate students, many of whom are required to enroll in the plan by GW, make up 61 percent of the 3,600 students on the plan.

Students have recently lamented the health plan’s costs. Those concerns escalated last year after the University required all medical, nursing and health graduate students, as well as all international students, to buy GW’s health plan.

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