Health benefits constant, rates rise

After a lengthy discussion about how to combat the rapidly increasing cost of health insurance, the University has decided to maintain its current insurance plan for next year.

Premiums will rise 21.3 percent next year, meaning that a single subscriber will pay $1,589. Including a family on the plan will cost an additional $3,392.

In an effort to reduce costs, the Student Health Insurance Advisory Group considered reducing benefits. Ultimately, though, the group decided to leave the plan unchanged—deductibles, reimbursement percentages and maximum out-of-pocket costs will remain constant next year.

Jean Hanson, administrative director for Student Health, said the decision to keep the health plan as is came after serious discussion based on research that started in January—two months earlier than normal. “When it comes right down to it, it’s really the students’ vote that counts,” she said.

The committee made an effort this year to solicit opinions from the general student body, said Rob Saunders, community affairs coordinator for the Graduate and Professional Student Council. GPSC administered a survey in March that revealed students would rather maintain benefits than reduce services for a marginal cut in premiums.

Although the University’s health plan is administered by Blue Cross/Blue Shield of North Carolina, Duke’s rates are determined solely by its subscribers’ claims.

Much of the public debate about next year’s plan centered on the disparity between the claim rates of single students and families. Last year, families in Duke’s plan logged an average claim that was about double what they paid in premiums; single students on average claimed about $250 less than they paid. The health plan services about 268 families and 4,700 single students.

The University mandates that all full-time students maintain health insurance. About 78 percent of Duke’s health plan subscribers are graduate students.

“We sort of realized that there needs to be a lot of work done on the Duke side to really help us with the spiraling costs,” said Saunders, who has served on the Student Health Insurance Advisory Group for several years. “We’ve done as much as we can about looking through the plan and doing what we can.”

Hanson said Student Health plans to study ways to reduce the cost of care, particularly for family members. Spouses and children of students are currently not eligible to visit Student Health, which means all of their doctor’s visits results in insurance claims. Hanson said the University would investigate a partnership with area physicians and other means to improve care for non-student subscribers.

The University also might consider expanding the operating hours of the Student Health Center to cut down on emergency room visits, she added.

In the meantime, Saunders advised students to contact their department chairs if they are concerned that their annual stipends are insufficient to cover health insurance costs.

“I think the fear is that people will start leaving the plan and go to some cut-rate insurance,” Saunders said, explaining that some companies are able to offer extremely cheap insurance by slashing benefits. Such plans, however, expose subscribers to greater risk of maxing out benefits.

People who leave Duke’s plan also tend to submit fewer claims, which keeps the overall cost of insurance down. When those students defect, Saunders said, it increases the average payout per subscriber.

“That’s adding an extra layer of complexity to an already problematic situation,” he said.


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