When McCormick junior Antonio Rocha first arrived at Northwestern, he opted out of Northwestern’s Student Health Insurance Plan thinking his personal one was sufficient.
But after running into medical issues during his freshman year, Rocha realized his plan didn’t cover much. He contacted the Office of Undergraduate Financial Aid in the middle of the academic year and asked for coverage, which he obtained after some hesitation on their end, he said.
“The specifics of figuring out if your plan was a comparable plan was a little bit too complicated,” Rocha said. “They have all these things listed out and it was just very difficult to parse through the information.”
NU evaluates personal health insurance plans through a yearly online questionnaire that students must fill out, or else they will be automatically enrolled in NU-SHIP. The University determines essential health benefits as those defined by the Affordable Care Act, ranging from outpatient care and emergency services to prescription drugs and maternity care.
If students answer “no” to any of their personal plans’ requirements, they are required to enroll in NU-SHIP to ensure full coverage while on campus.
Though NU-SHIP is optional for all undergraduate and graduate students who reside within the U.S., international students are required to enroll in NU-SHIP — even if they have a comparable plan in their home country.
The annual premium cost of NU’s insurance plan is $4,386. Still, in-network provided care will cost students a $250 deductible before NU-SHIP begins its coverage and an annual out-of-pocket limit of $2,000. The deductible amount increases to $500 for out-of-network care.
NU-SHIP does not cover dental and vision costs. Instead, students who want these services covered can opt into external plans that are University-run. Delta Dental costs students $391.23 a year, and DeltaCare, a more limited coverage plan, costs $188.50 for the year. The vision insurance plan costs $87.66 for students annually.
Some, like first-year Bienen master’s student Rachel Côté, wish that NU-SHIP covered dental and vision insurance as well.
“(Dental check-ups are) really important for your… dental health,” Côté said. “But it’s so expensive. It’s pretty frustrating.”
Low-income students have varied financial aid experiences
Students who cannot afford to pay the full premium receive support from the Office of Undergraduate Financial Aid. For McCormick sophomore Jasmyn Rieff, need-based financial aid covers the program’s enrollment fee.
Rieff said NU-SHIP covers her medical fees to a reasonable extent, as long as referrals are made through Northwestern Medicine. When she visited urgent care for a dislocated knee cap, she said she was still left with around $500 in remaining fees.
“I had to go to urgent care because Searle (Hall) was apparently booked for the entire day,” Rieff said. “I think part of (why I still have to pay) is that I didn’t get a referral. They just told me verbally to go to urgent care.”
Rieff added she also pays smaller fees for individual services such as therapy. NU-SHIP covers mental health costs with in-network offices, but students like Rieff have to pay a $20 copay for every session. Still, she can submit copay receipts to in-network offices for reimbursement.
When asked about accessibility, Rieff said she wishes NU-SHIP’s coverage and procedures were more transparent and easy to understand.
Some students, like Weinberg senior Elizabeth Wolf, are not reimbursed for physician copays such as for mental health services. Wolf said while the reduced cost of therapy is helpful, $20 per session adds up.
Wolf has also endured two hospitalizations during her time at NU as a result of chronic migraines — one of which resulted in a $1,500 bill not covered by her insurance plan. However, Wolf said NU-SHIP reduced this amount from the original $7,500 fee.
“The coverage is pretty great,” Wolf said. “I do know that any of your mental health care doesn’t go towards your deductible even though I think it’s still pretty good coverage.”
In an email to The Daily, Director of Media Relations Hilary Hurd Anyaso said the University covers the entire cost of the NU-SHIP insurance plan for low-income individuals. She did not comment on this variability of medical fee coverage on NU-SHIP between students on financial aid.
“The Financial Aid Office contacts all incoming students who are eligible for the assistance and provides the money directly to them,” she wrote. “The Financial Aid Office contacts all eligible students proactively to ensure they are aware of this benefit before they even come to campus.”
International students are required to enroll in NU-SHIP
Students holding a J-1 or F-1 U.S. visa are required to enroll in NU-SHIP regardless of their insurance plan back home. For Côté, this means she has to pay the full price of the insurance plan.
Côté, who is from Montréal, completed her undergraduate degree in Canada. She said she used her mother’s insurance for dental, vision and other specialized insurance policies that Canada’s public health care plan doesn’t cover.
Since coming to NU, she said she wishes a tiered system existed where she could opt out of certain expenses she doesn’t need covered.
“I find it frustrating that there wasn’t a yes or no, like I couldn’t come if I didn’t get (the insurance),” Côté said. “I’m paying at least $5,000 more than I was expecting to come here, which is significant when you don’t have a lot of money.”
Côté added she acknowledges she is a relatively able-bodied person who is lucky not to need all the coverage NU-SHIP provides. However, she said services such as fertility treatments and treatments for preexisting conditions she doesn’t have is coverage she doesn’t foresee needing in the future.
It’s likely international students have mandatory coverage by NU-SHIP to ensure students are taken care of while in the U.S., Côté said.
“That could put someone in a bad situation if they didn’t have insurance while they were abroad,” Côté said.
For other international students, like Weinberg junior Evelyn Long, the price of NU-SHIP is comparable to other plans for students. Because Long has U.S. permanent residency, she said her family thought it would be easier for her to stay on NU-SHIP.
Long said the program’s flexibility appealed to her. Students can choose to either purchase full-year coverage or can opt in whenever they’d like, as long as it’s at the start of one of the academic quarters.
“Because more people use NU-SHIP, it seemed more convenient,” Long said. “The school already provides you with the information and you just know that it will work with Northwestern’s health center.”
Still, some students believe NU-SHIP’s high cost doesn’t align with the coverage students actually need. Côté said the important aspects of health care coverage include seeing a general practitioner, emergency room visits and mental health services.
Côté added that, if NU allowed it, she’d still be on her mom’s insurance plan.
“Until I’m 26 I’m covered under my mom’s plan … it also does cover medical expenses when you’re abroad,” Côté said. “ I totally could have just stayed with that, but I still had to get NU-SHIP.”
This content was originally published here.