Archive for Monday, April 9, 2007

KU tries to balance health care plan

Students with families say current option was too much for too little

April 9, 2007


Finding comprehensive yet affordable health insurance is a challenge for Kansas University students, especially those with families.

Debbi Thayn reads to her daughters Lucy, 2, left, and Mary, 4, alongside her husband, Jonathan Thayn, a Kansas University doctoral student. Although Jonathan is a student, his family doesn't have health insurance through KU.

Debbi Thayn reads to her daughters Lucy, 2, left, and Mary, 4, alongside her husband, Jonathan Thayn, a Kansas University doctoral student. Although Jonathan is a student, his family doesn't have health insurance through KU.

Many KU students with children end up putting their children on HealthWave, the state's subsidized health care program for children, instead of buying one of the plans the school offers, which last year cost $4,336 per year in premiums, per child.

A key benefit to KU's plans is that doctors' visits are free at Watkins Student Health Center. But the center doesn't have any pediatricians.

"I think it's an issue that the school should be working on," said Debbi Thayn, wife of a Kansas University doctoral student, who goes without insurance rather than paying the roughly $3,500 in premiums it would cost to insure herself through KU.

The couple's two children, ages 2 and 4, are on HealthWave, and Thayn said she knows about six other families who do the same thing. There are about 1,000 married students at KU. It is unknown how many have children.

"We checked out (KU's) plans and decided they were much too expensive," she said. "We would be using our student loans to pay for it when we need our student loans for living expenses."

Diana Malott, associate director of KU Student Health Services, said it's hard for schools to find a plan that's right for all students. The health care needs of a single, 20-year-old undergraduate differ greatly from the needs of a graduate student with a family.

Malott said she's optimistic that a new three-year contract for the state's public universities, set to begin Aug. 1, will strike a better balance than the plans KU has had in the past.

In recent years, KU has offered two voluntary health insurance programs for students, both provided by MEGA Life and Health Insurance Co. One was used by all regents universities and cost $876 per year in premiums for the student, $7,502 for the family.

For a student who rarely gets sick and doesn't have chronic health problems, "that type of coverage is fine," Malott said.

The problem with the plan, she said, was that the coverage wasn't as strong as it appeared on the surface. It had caps that limited benefits, such as a $250 per year maximum prescription drug benefit and $300 per day limit on hospital stays. Major medical treatments, such as chemotherapy, weren't covered unless the person bought an add-on to the policy that cost $461 for the student, $1,383 for the family.

"I've fielded lots and lots of phone calls from parents and students who thought they had a good policy and realized once they got into it and needed it that it was not very comprehensive," Malott said.

As an alternative, KU in 2005 offered a plan designed to give more thorough coverage. But because of the small number of people enrolled - about 300 last year in Lawrence - a few large claims caused premiums to skyrocket.

For example, it would have cost more than $13,000 in premiums this year under that plan for a student to cover herself, her spouse and her children. That doesn't include a $250 deductible per illness for children.

KU's new plan, also provided by MEGA, aims to offer benefits that are similar to those provided by an employer, Malott said. The plan does away with some of the caps on benefits and has a $1,000 maximum prescription drug benefit instead of $250.

The annual premium for one student will be between $900 and $1,000. Add a spouse, and it jumps to about $4,800. With the spouse and children, and it costs about $8,265.


Richard Boyd 11 years, 2 months ago

"Hullooo: YOO HOO",

What is the problem with Healthwave? I am getting ready to finish up my 7th year at KU (one more to go ;-). Four years in Lawrence and four more in KC:

This is some advice for all "married with kids" students: get yourselves over to SRS and find out what you qualify for. Believe me, you might be surprised... I mean you might be qualified for benefits "straight up" and "fair and square" that you had never considered. Students with families are indeed "po-folks", with a difference, our use of the system is truly and predictably SHORT TERM (we can actually write down what month and year that we will be able to pull out of the system), perhaps more in line with the ORIGINAL intent: a helping hand to get "over the hump".

I was rather squeamish at first, until I considered that we had paid INTO the system as a family for 18 years and we will end up contributing even MORE (both in taxes and direct provision of services) when finished.

My wife looked into it in my second year, as it turns out the WHOLE family qualified for Healthwave (including my wife and me). We also discovered that we qualified for a vision card (food stamps) which we had not even considered. I had always felt that further formal education as an older student was frankly a real privilege therefore I had never considered myself disadvantaged, that is to say, we never "FELT POOR". Furthermore, I had NO idea how much a "full- time" family actually qualified for.

Understand, there are a few hoops that have to be cleared to certify you are entitled to benefits. Healthwave has it own tickly little bureaucratic issues and inconveniences which can be pretty trifling (it is like an HMO on steroids), which must be worked through but all in all the system is a good one and fulfills its mission to provide a basic safety net to which we are thankful for.

Godot 11 years, 2 months ago

Healthwave was designed for the down trodden, those who have no other option, those who are out of work, or underemployed.

People who have the means to attend college for 8 years, no doubt with financial assistance of some sort, do not meet the criteria, as far as I am concerned.

No wonder Healthwave and Medicaid are going under.

Richard Boyd 11 years, 2 months ago

"Healthwave was designed for the down trodden, those who have no other option, those who are out of work, or underemployed"

We qualified straight up, thus entitled like anyone else who qualifies

We will be on the program exactly 13 more months... and we have never had to use the system, hardly a great drain on anyone

Godot 11 years, 2 months ago

What plan will you be on after your 13 months?

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