Elon University will partner with Student Blue to give students another health insurance option for the upcoming academic year, according to Dean of Students Jana Lynn Patterson. The new program will give students the option to purchase their own insurance or remain on personal coverage plans starting in the fall.
Full-time students are eligible to purchase the plan for approximately $1,300 each semester and graduate students are eligible to purchase the plan for approximately $1,900, according to Patterson. All students will be “opted in” to the plan and will have to submit a waiver to “opt out” and avoid being charged the cost of the insurance plan.
Students who purchase Student Blue will be covered completely for all Health Services offerings, such as testing or visits. For students who do not choose the university insurance plan, their health insurance will be billed by Student Health Services next year.
The university will cover the co-payment for health service visits, but any charges not paid by insurance fall to students. For students who are getting gender affirming care, sexually transmitted infections testing or reproductive care, the university will pay for the visit and the appointment will not go to a student’s personal insurance.
Elon News Network sat down with Patterson to discuss why the university is choosing to offer insurance now, what the plan includes and what students need to know going into the fall.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Why did Elon decide to partner with Student Blue, and why now?
“There are several things that I would attribute it to. One is because we found that there were groups of students who didn't have access to student health insurance due to their immigration status, some of them from their age — graduate students sometimes fall in that kind of murky area of being able to get insurance — so we really felt a commitment that we needed to offer student health insurance.
We also have had more and more requests from parents who may have had a student at another college and would call us and say, ‘I want to enroll in student health insurance,’ whereas we weren't offering it because we weren't ready at that point to offer to do an opt-out plan. Now in North Carolina, you can't have a total voluntary policy. It has to be an opt-out plan.
Our international students, some of them were coming with insurance that was difficult for them to use in the area, so we needed to find a good plan that would stabilize our international students. We have lots of students who come from places that have high deductibles and high coinsurance if they're out of network, I mean really high.
Just this fall, we had two students a week apart — one who had appendicitis and the other one had an injury — they had insurance but because their insurance was from out of state and had a really high deductible, all of their costs to the tune of about six or $8,000 were out of pocket.
We really felt like it was time. We'd been working on this project prior to COVID. Of course, COVID made us all stop because we had to attend to some other things first, but we last year really began to pick it back up in earnest.
There are two companies in North Carolina that offer the student insurance plans, but really Student Blue — or BlueCross BlueShield — offered the plan that we felt like best met our students' needs.”
I think a lot of what’s on students' minds when they hear that the university is offering health insurance is the cost associated with it. Can you tell me a little bit about what that cost will look like for those who choose to opt in to Student Blue?
“As far as insurance costs go, it's about $1,300 a semester, which for many students is going to be much less than they would pay even if they had a single trip to the emergency room. … Graduate students will be about $1,900 or a little bit more than that, because they're in a different risk pool for insurance, a semester.
It still is a very comprehensive plan because it covers all of the facets of the Affordable Care Act. It includes mental health coverage, it includes coverage for prescriptions, it includes coverage for tests, it includes inpatient/outpatient benefits, it includes gender affirming care, it includes reproductive care, and other kinds of concerns that students might have. It's very comprehensive.
When we did a market analysis of trying to find a similar product in the marketplace for students … it would be probably about $6,000 a year, up to about $16,000 a year, depending on their risk pools. It's this particular plan that's used at many of our cohort schools in North Carolina as well as the entire university system in North Carolina. We know it's founded in good service to students, we know that they're used to working with students, they're very responsive, we got very good feedback when we went and talked with our partners about how they worked with students.”
What is the No. 1 thing you want students to understand and know about Student Blue?
“One I would say is that this is not mandatory insurance, if they have other insurance. As long as they have insurance, they can wave out. The waiver process — we had some students test it today — it took about two minutes, so it's a very easy process to go in, fill it out, upload your insurance card.
We use very broad criteria, as long as it provides emergency coverage in Alamance County, then it will meet the waiver criteria. If the student doesn't meet the waiver criteria, then they can, if they want to go to the marketplace, then they can certainly do that. They just would then upload once they get their coverage. They would upload it to the system.
But this is a really good option for students who can't get insurance anywhere else, or for those students whose families, they have insurance, but … for some of our families, it costs five or $6,000 a year to insure their student on their policy. With this they could take them off the primary policy, this can be a secondary policy. It covers a broad range of needs for our students from students who don't have anything to students who are trying to to look for a policy that's better going to better meet their needs.
It does have dependent coverage. Students can opt in for dependent coverage if they have children or spouses or partners at home, so that was another area of need we felt like we needed to address, especially for our graduate student population. But the only group for which this policy is mandated is our international students and that's to make sure that we can know that they are in a group that's going to a policy that's going to cover them because they tend to have some pretty high out of pocket costs.”
As we get ready to go into next year, where can students give feedback or learn more about the program?
“There will be lots of resources. We certainly have the university's website, Student Blue has an Elon page and that will be updated. They have a customer service representative that will talk to students about that plan. I can talk to students about that plan. And then [for] questions we have a specific email address. We have a staff member identified who will be dedicated to student health insurance project now.
We know that this is new and so we want to make sure that we've got lots of areas for students and families to get information, but also if they have questions so that we can try to answer the questions, the specific questions, in a timely manner and in a way that they that they come to expect. We understand this is new.
We are the only one of our peer and aspirant institutions with the exception of James Madison that doesn't have many opt-out insurance now and 90% of the colleges in the country have this kind of insurance. But we also recognize it's very new for our families, for the Elon family.”