Fordham Strengthens Student Insurance with an Opt-Out Strategy
At the beginning of the semester, Student Health Services sent a series of emails with the subject: “ACT NOW – Fordham University Insurance Requirements.” The emails were the Fordham Administration’s attempt to inform students about the September 10th opt-out deadline for the University’s new student health insurance policy; one that is partially the product of a student movement that spanned the last two school years.
In fall 2011, a small group of students in the Stein Scholars program at Fordham Law, dissatisfied with Fordham’s student insurance plan, began pressuring the Rose Hill Administration to revamp their policy. The group conducted a survey of Fordham Law students that focused on health care and received more than 400 responses. The survey was presented to Dean of Student Services Gregory Pappas.
Nearly seventy-five percent of the survey respondents were in favor of automatic enrollment in a health insurance plan at Fordham. Two-thirds of respondents said they would be more likely to join Fordham insurance if it had more complete coverage.
“Both the law school and Rose Hill administrations were unaware that there was a problem until we approached them,” said Rachel Graves, one of the students who advocated for changes to the insurance plan and organized the survey. “But both really listened to us and ultimately supported our efforts.”
Over a period of a year and a half, Graves and the other student advocates sent out countless emails, made phone calls, and scheduled appointments to persuade Fordham administrators to change the insurance policy. Late last semester, Student Health Services settled on a new student insurance plan, and set the opt-out date for the beginning of fall.
The previous plan was too expensive for many students, and included only a low prescription cap. It gave students little choice in physicians, and failed to cover issues now required under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) like pre-existing conditions, physicals, and birth control. Many students chose to forgo health insurance all together.
Student Health Services’ solution to deliver broader insurance coverage to students at a more competitive price was to employ the opt-out model.
“We’re projecting somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,500 to 2,000 students enrolled in the new plan,” Pappas said. “Our projection is about double what we used to have. On the old plan, we used to get about 800 and that number has been steadily declining.”
The old plan cost students more than $2,700 per year. Under the new plan, the cost is down to just more than $2,000, a decrease by more than 20 percent.
“By using an opt-in model, Fordham will increase the number of participants on the policy. That will allow the insurers to offer better benefits at a lower cost per student. Hopefully that will allow everyone to get better health care and make for healthier, happier students,” said Graves.
The new insurance plan is an opt-out plan with a “soft-waiver”, which means that the only evidence that a student is enrolled in another plan is the statement and information provided by the student. According to Pappas, there is a possibility that Fordham could transition to a “hard-waiver” plan that requires additional proof of alternate coverage, such as an insurance letter. For now, the university will be monitoring the effects of the policy change with the assistance of the University Health Services Committee.
The Committee includes Pappas and his assistant, the insurance broker, doctors, the international office, the athletics department, and other administrators. According to Pappas, students are welcome on the committee.
“Graduate Arts and Sciences students and Law Students are the two groups that seem very interested in having a student voice in the process,” he said. “We didn’t meet a lot last year because we were going through a transition period. Now that the soft-waiver program is in place, we’re going to get the committee moving again.”
The new plan currently complies with both the Affordable Care Act and oftentimes-stricter New York State law. As legislation changes, or is put on hold, the insurance plan may need to adjust—but Pappas said the university is focused on providing the most effective coverage possible.
“[T]he new Fordham policy . . . is a work in progress,” Graves said in an email. “I don’t think all of the problems will be fixed overnight, but the Rose Hill administration seems genuinely committed to, over the next couple of years, putting in place a really good policy at a better price for students.”
–David Harvey, Editor-in-Chief; Andrew Ringwood, Staff Writer