As the White House works to repair the technological glitches that impacted the rollout of the new online health exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act, University Health Services has a clear message for students: think carefully before jumping onto a new plan.
The Affordable Care Act creates new options for students, including recently launched state-level health insurance marketplaces through which low-income individuals may find themselves eligible for subsidized plans or an expanded Medicaid program.
Harvard students will have more choices and, in some instances, access to cheaper plans. However, Melanie Green, associate director of Harvard University Health Services, said that not all health insurance plans are created equal.
“It is not enough to be covered,” Green said. “You have to be a more informed buyer about what your risks and limitations are. There’s a lot more you need to learn for yourself before you make a decision.”
Officials at HUHS worry that some students will find “catastrophic coverage” plans—or plans with low upfront costs but high deductibles when health problems arise—particularly attractive. Drawn in by low premiums, low-income students could find themselves facing the highest deductibles, Green said.
Even students who choose plans with lower deductibles may face limitations in finding care. Those who choose a plan on the exchange will need to find a primary care provider in the community, and students enrolled on Medicaid who travel abroad will not have access to the full range of care, Green said.
Currently, all students are automatically enrolled onto Harvard-sponsored insurance unless they can prove that their alternate plan provides comparable coverage. According to Paul J. Barreira, director of Harvard University Health Services, approximately 40 percent of Harvard undergraduate students and 80 percent of graduate students participate in the Harvard-sponsored BlueCross BlueShield plan.
Barreira acknowledged the complexity of health care reform and said the definition of “comparable coverage” for waiving Harvard insurance will be evaluated by HUHS over time.
“It’s going to be complicated, and students will have to do a lot of work to determine what their coverage will provide,” Barreira said. “We will be continually assessing what impact the ACA will have on HUHS in the coming months.”
Barriera said that the price of the Harvard plan may change in response to the new healthcare law, but that students need to consider the difference between cost and value.
In an email to The Crimson, UHS spokesperson Lindsey Baker also said that students should understand the plans they are purchasing to ensure that it will meet all their needs.
“Choosing the right health insurance is an important decision, and we encourage students to carefully look into these options before making a decision,” Baker said.
Despite the new options for health insurance, all students will still have access to certain HUHS services covered under the Student Health Fee, including urgent care and Mental Health Services, according to Baker.
While students have until February 28 to decide whether they would like to waive Harvard-sponsored insurance for the upcoming spring semester, Dr. Barreira said he hopes students do their research sooner rather than later.
“For college students, the analogy is shopping week,” Barreira said. “You shop, you evaluate your options, and then at some point you have to decide: Am I going to go on a new plan? This is an extended shopping week, with much more complexity.”
—Staff writer Quinn D. Hatoff can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @QuinnHatoff.
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