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Barreira Explains Student Health Insurance Options and Changes

Paul J. Barreira
Harvard University Health Services Director Paul J. Barreira.

UPDATED: March 20, 2018 at 2:05 a.m.

Harvard University Health Services Director Paul J. Barreira said in an interview earlier this month he thinks students don’t fully understand their health insurance options.

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He explained that students have access to different services depending on whether they are enrolled in Harvard’s Blue Cross Blue Shield insurance or use their parent’s insurance and just pay a student health fee.

“Students often forget that Health Services is both an insurance program and a clinic delivering clinical care,” he said.

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According to Barreira, HUHS has five locations, including facilities for both primary care and more specialized services like dermatology and gynecology.

“We’re a multi-speciality, out-patient practice meaning besides primary care we have all kinds of speciality services here. Dermatology, eye services, GI services, neurology services, OBGYN services,” Barreira said.

The reason HUHS is able to provide so much support is because it, unlike most other universities, supports both faculty and students, Barreira said.

According to Barreira, 60 percent of students at the College stay on their parents insurance, rather than partaking in Harvard insurance. But the student health fee, without additionally purchasing insurance, does not cover any non-HUHS visits. Ninety-five percent of the services provided by HUHS, though, are covered by the student health fee alone, Barreira said.

Barreira added that HUHS has increased the number of mental health-related visits that a student who is on the Blue Cross Blue Shield Insurance can have from 10-12 to 40 mental health-related visits a year without a review.

“So nobody’s calling and saying justify the fact that you’re seeing this person weekly, essentially, while they’re on college campus,” Barreira said.

Barreira also said Blue Cross Blue Shield’s amount of visits permitted is rather unique, noting for other insurance companies “20 would be generous.”

“You have to take my word for it there’s no insurance company that gives you 40 visits a year without a review,” he said.

Barreira said this change will substantially benefit students and help more students receive counseling than the University’s Counseling and Mental Health Services alone can provide; even with 40 counselors and psychiatrists, he said, CAMHS has to create capacity in creative ways.

Additionally, as of two years ago, UHS no longer charges students who are on Harvard’s insurance a $35 co-pay fee for the first eight counseling visits at clinics anywhere in the U.S. This change has lead to a 300 percent increase.

“We realized that the co-pay could be a barrier for some students,” Barreira said.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction and clarification:

CORRECTION: March 20, 2018

A previous version of this story incorrectly indicated that HUHS's policy of not charging students for their first eight counseling visits only applies to local clinics. In fact, this policy applies to clinics anywhere in the U.S.

CLARIFICATION: March 20, 2018

A previous version of this article indicated HUHS has increased the number of visits a student who is on Blue Cross Blue Shield Insurance can have per year without a review. To clarify, HUHS has increased the number of mental health-related visits a student who is on Blue Cross Blue Shield Insurance can have per year without a review.

—Staff writer Ahab Chopra can be reached at ahab.chopra@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @ahab_chopra

—Staff writer Ashley M. Cooper can be reached at ashley.cooper@thecrimson.com.

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