A Healthy Blog

Massachusetts health care — wonky, with a healthy dose of reality

QSHIP Improvements Catch the Wind

QSHIP Improvements Catch the Wind

April 28, 2009

This morning the Division of Health Care Finance and Policy held a public hearing on proposed regulations which would increase reporting and disclosure requirements for student health insurance plans. The room was packed with students, advocates and other stakeholders who testified with concerns, questions and requests regarding the student health plans.

Theresa Koster from Gallagher Koster, a student health plan broker, spoke in opposition to the proposed regulations and her testimony contradicted some of what the students would later say about how the plans work. She stated that mandating schools to pro-rate premiums would add additional operational costs and intimated that this would lead to higher costs being passed on to the students. She also challenged the need for increased disclosure requirements, claiming plan information is already available to students, which was expressly contradicted in the students’ testimony. Koster explicitly asked what the purpose is in having all of this information reported since they adhere to quality standards and work very closely with their clients - the schools - to give the best benefit packages they can to the students.

The most compelling and truly sad testimony came from several students from the Student Health Organizing Coalition (SHOC). They represent a group of college students passionate about improving their health plans often because they had negative experiences with their student health plans. The students emphasized the inadequacy of the proposed regulations to address concerns with the structure of student health plans. The students shared horror stories of their struggles obtaining medical care and medications for diabetes, mental illness, tumors, endometriosis and other chronic conditions, forgoing necessary care and unknowingly racking up medical debt. The students called for increased accountability, higher standards, more transparency and a seat at the table during the insurance selection process. They emphasized that ‘affordability does not just mean lower premiums’ and that students should not have to choose between their education and maintaining health coverage.

Stephen Beckley, a student health insurance consultant, testified to express serious concerns with student health plans. Criticizing the plans as “horrifically inadequate,” he advocated for increased student education and more affordable, higher quality plans, which he says are possible. He asked that plans comply with the American College Health Association standards, which go a long way towards addressing the students’ concerns.

Andrew Cohen, from our ACT!! partner organization The Access Project, expressed appreciation for the reporting and disclosure requirements and raised several concerns about the structure and governance of student plans. He echoed the concerns raised by the students in their testimony and offered some solutions to the problems they raised. Cohen asked that students be provided with standardized, clear information about their coverage and the process for filing grievances. He requested that each campus designate a staff member to handle concerns that students will have with their coverage. Andrew also asked for information about the number of students who exceed per service and benefit caps, the number of students using Health Safety Net as wrap coverage and the costs, and details about brokers that contract with schools.

The ACT!! Coalition weighed in to express our support for the proposed regulations and briefly discussed our concerns with the inadequate coverage and unaffordable cost-sharing in many student plans. For more details check out our post on WBUR’s Commonhealth blog.

If you would like to learn more or get involved in student health plan issues please contact Catherine Hammons at chammons@hcfama.org.
Catherine Hammons