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Collegians take intro to health insurance
[August 31, 2008]

Collegians take intro to health insurance

(Omaha World-Herald (NE) (KRT) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Aug. 31--For Matt Byerly, the decision was easy. He could stay on his parents' health insurance while attending the University of Nebraska at Omaha and save the $841 premium.

For Jamshid Allabaev it was an easy decision, too. Insurance was available in his home country, but the complexity of dealing with a health insurer 6,500 miles away in Uzbekistan seemed daunting.

"I decided to get it here," Allabaev said. Like other international students at UNO, he is required by the terms of his student visa to have coverage.

For college students and their parents across the Midlands, health insurance is one of the issues that require some time to consider. Most students simply remain on their parents' policies.

But for thousands -- 3,000 at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 1,500 at Creighton, 950 at UNO and 5,000 at Iowa State -- campus plans offer basic coverage for student groups that are, in general, younger and healthier than average.

"Both students and parents need to sit down and look at the policy from their hometown and see what the universities offer and weigh their options on what's going to be the best value for the dollar," said Beverly Heiserman, student health coordinator at UNL.

The claims records of college groups generally have kept premiums and out-of-pocket costs from increasing as rapidly as those of employer groups, said John Rice, an independent insurance agent from Sioux Falls, S.D., who negotiates policies for UNO, the University of Nebraska at Kearney and Nebraska's state colleges.

The former Nebraskan said student plans vary widely depending on what the schools want to provide and financial factors, including student fees and students' budgets.

Private schools generally require coverage, and the University of Iowa adopted that standard this year. Most public universities don't require insurance but strongly encourage it.

"They're definitely not a panacea, but they do offer a great deal to offset the unexpected costs," Rice said.

Beech Street Corp., a San Diego company, negotiates discounts with medical providers for many of the colleges.

One of the goals, Rice said, is to make sure college careers aren't cut short by unexpected medical costs.

He recalled a student from McCook, Neb., who resisted buying insurance.

"He had said he wasn't planning to get sick," Rice said.

But he finally relented and only a few weeks later had an emergency operation that ran up a $30,000 medical bill.

"His parents have sent me a card every Christmas thanking me," Rice said.

Creighton's "mandatory hard waiver" policy requires full-time students to show proof of comprehensive health insurance or to sign up for the student plan, said Debra C. Saure, health services director.

"College students as a group nationally are an underinsured population," Saure said. Most of the 1,500 students on the Creighton plan are in graduate school, so most Creighton students remain on their parents' policies.

While students generally have fewer chronic illnesses, they tend to have more accidents, Saure said.

Occasionally students find out the hard way that they aren't covered by their parents' insurance, said UNO health services coordinator Marcia Adler. That's because they drop classes early in the semester and no longer qualify for coverage as full-time students under the terms of their parents' policies.

And many students simply don't understand insurance.

"I have a huge number of students that want to run out and buy insurance after they've gotten injured," she said. "It's like trying to buy car insurance after you've already had an accident."

The campus plans work much like employer group plans. For a premium -- collected in one or two payments per year -- policies cover, within certain limits, medical costs except for deductibles and co-payments.

The schools, either directly or through independent agents, negotiate premiums and benefits. In recent years premium amounts have gone up. Some plans have dental coverage, and most have pharmacy coverage up to an annual limit per illness.

Mainline insurers stand behind the policies, including Aetna Student Health and Columbian Life Insurance.

Adler said 36 percent of the students who saw doctors at the UNO health center last year had no insurance.

At UNL, informal surveys indicate that about 5 percent of students don't carry health coverage, Heiserman said. That's a relatively low percentage, possibly because health insurance in the Midwest tends to be somewhat cheaper than in some other regions, she said.

--Contact the writer: 444-1080,

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