Seattle University recently announced that beginning in fall 2022, health insurance through the university will no longer be mandatory or provided to domestic students. Domestic students currently attending Seattle U will retain full coverage through summer 2022.
Prior to this announcement, student insurance was mandatory and billed automatically to full-time, part-time, full-time, post-baccalaureate, national and international equivalence students. The program was referred to as an “opt-out” program, where students could apply for an exemption if they had active comparable health insurance in Washington state.
Seattle U works with JCB insurance solutions to provide student health insurance through Aetna. In the 2021-22 school year, the cost for each student was $2,346. This premium health coverage was the only option for students who did not opt out.
Associate Provost and Dean of Students James Willette, who released the school-wide email on May 16, noted that the decision was difficult to make. Several of the factors that influenced this decision included the number of students enrolling in insurance plans, growing low-cost health insurance options, other health care resources available to students in the area, and next year’s premium cost.
Willette noted that “Unfortunately, due to high utilization, the student health insurance premium for next year would have been prohibitively expensive for many of our students.”
Olivia Newcomb, a sophomore majoring in design, spoke about the benefits of Seattle U offering insurance through the school. Many Seattle U students agree that while insurance was expensive, the benefits it offered created a security buffer for students, especially those coming from out of state.
“Even though it was expensive, it was a good option. I think it’s beneficial for possible on-campus emergencies like alcohol poisoning or something, but shouldn’t be a requirement,” Newcomb said. “I think health insurance should have been changed to optional, but not completely removed to give students the option of having it if they needed it or wanted it.”
She also noted the financial hardship that the high cost of insurance creates for some students.
“It bothers and helps the students. It was convenient for students looking for health insurance, but requiring it could be difficult for students who couldn’t afford the extra cost,” Newcomb said.
The new insurance policy includes different requirements for domestic and international students.
Willette explained the reasoning behind the continued requirement for international students to enroll in the insurance program through Seattle U.
“International students and undocumented students cannot enroll in open-market health insurance plans,” Willette said.
Naomi Yota, a fourth-year international business student, expressed concern about the effect on domestic students.
“This is a bit of a concern, given that many college students have minimal knowledge of the importance of insurance and how it works. The least they should have is support guaranteed by the schools they attend. It’s a bit unfair if the option isn’t even provided. Other students whose parents have occupational health insurance are lucky, but not everyone has that luxury.
On the other hand, there were some clear factors in the required insurance that were deterrents to students.
“It’s definitely a lot more expensive than other health insurance provided by other schools like the University of Washington or Bellevue College,” Yota said.
The Seattle U campus has seen several big changes in healthcare services over the past year, including the addition of TimelyCarea 24/7 telehealth service that Seattle U recently partnered with.
Willette explained that the insurance policy change was unrelated to other health care developments on campus. Nonetheless, Seattle University wishes to continue to support and encourage students to access the health benefits available to them.
“We hope students will use TimelyCare to meet many of their healthcare needs. We remain committed to promoting health and wellness and improving access to health care for all of our students,” said Willette.
Erin Vernon, an associate professor of economics at Seattle U, noted some of the financial barriers that can prevent young people from getting their own insurance.
“With the national penalty for not withdrawing insurance under the 2018 tax plan and insurance rates rising each year at twice the rate of inflation, young people in particular are deciding to risk to be uninsured,” Vernon said. “Often, younger groups of people do not need the same level of health care as older demographic groups and are more often financially constrained.”
While Vernon expressed her understanding of the university’s decision, she also expressed concern about student insurance due to the non-mandatory change.
“I’m concerned that students won’t take the time without the university’s requirement to purchase one of the options available to them. I encourage those without insurance to enroll in one of the Washington Insurance Exchange plans because the risk of going without health insurance can be catastrophic,” Vernon said.
Fortunately, there are plenty of alternatives for students to enroll in health coverage in Washington. This expansion of insurance options is a key reason Seattle U chose to end mandatory coverage provided by the school.
Vernon explained the many alternative options that have recently developed in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Washington State became the first in the nation to offer a public options plan known as Cascade Care. Through this plan, students have multiple health insurance options and can be reimbursed by federal grants based on their income level. For students who cannot afford these plans, other options such as Washington’s Medicaid program or Apple Health are available.
“Seattle U students excluded from this plan will not be without affordable insurance options, which is most likely a major factor in this decision,” Vernon said.
Willette also mentioned new health insurance alternatives.
“The original goal of the health insurance requirement and the school-sponsored plan was to provide a comprehensive and affordable health plan that would ensure access to health services for students. There are now many other health insurance options through Healthcare.gov, Apple Health, and other programs that did not exist when the original policy was created.
Although there are now a variety of health coverage options in Washington State, the enrollment process can still be confusing.
Willette pointed to several resources the university has created to help guide and encourage students to explore and enroll in alternative health insurance.
“We understand that navigating the health insurance enrollment process can be a daunting task, so we’ve created a resource page at www.seattleu.edu/wellness/insurance to help students explore available options and learn more about how to enroll,” Willette said.
The on-campus Student Health Center and Counseling and Psychological Services will continue to provide free, low-cost health services through Seattle U. Timely Care is an open resource for students.
If students would like to learn more about health care options, they can schedule a consultation meeting with Wellness and Health Promotion staff here.