The Hammond Health Center has announced that beginning next semester, Ithaca College students using the college’s health insurance plan will face a substantial increase in cost and coverage.
The increase comes in accordance with the Affordable Care Act that was signed into law by President Barack Obama in March 2010.
The college sent out an email to students April 26 explaining that the new plan will no longer charge students for routine immunizations, lab tests and X-rays
performed at the health center, stocked prescription medications, and medical procedures performed during visits to the center.
Currently, students pay $575 annually for the plan, but the price is estimated to almost double to $1,110 next year.
Under the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies are not allowed to set limits on the dollar amount of health benefits that a plan will cover in a single year or over a lifetime. Currently, the college’s most basic plan has a maximum annual benefit of $10,000. This maximum benefit will increase to $100,000 next year.
Dr. Vivian Lorenzo, assistant medical director at the Hammond Health Center, explained that the Affordable Care Act also requires that the college continues to increase the benefit limit and eventually phase it out by the year 2014.
“Next year, we will be required to offer a maximum benefit of $500,000 or more,” she said. “And it eventually becomes unlimited.”
She said, however, that though the annual fee increased greatly when the maximum benefit went from $10,000 to $100,000, insurance companies don’t expect the jump from $100,000 to $500,000 to significantly affect the annual student fee for the 2013-14 academic year.
The fate of the act that brings about these changes now lies in the hands of the Supreme Court, where they are currently debating its constitutionality. In particular, justices have questioned the section of the act that requires every American to have health insurance.
A decision is expected by the end of June.
College policy dictates that all matriculated students must have health insurance coverage either from the college or elsewhere. Students not enrolled in the college-sponsored plan are required to show evidence of comparable coverage within another plan.
Sophomore Kara Bhatti has been using the college’s health insurance plan for the past two years. She said the email sent to her last week about the changes in health care at the college made her worry about how she was going to make ends meet.
“The first thing I noticed in the email they say it’s going to be ‘notably higher’ than in previous years,” she said. “That scares me because I already have problems paying this $500 for insurance, and it didn’t offer much.”
Bhatti, a resident of New York City, said the email has also led her to doubt if she will be using the same plan next semester.
“It’s causing me to rethink whether I want it or not anymore,” Bhatti said. “I am thinking I’d rather just buy insurance from New York City and use it up here.”
Sheri Steurer, health care coordinator at the Hammond Health Center, said one third of Ithaca College students purchase the college’s health care plan.
Steurer said though the new plan will be more costly for the students, it will provide them with a more complete package.
“This plan is going to go up to $100,000 for the year,” she said. “It’s a much more comprehensive plan.”
Lorenzo said if this policy is the student's only health insurance coverage, they will be much better insured than under the previous plan.
However, Lorenzo said certain services like travel immunizations and over-the-counter medications such as Tylenol, which were not free under the current plan, will not be offered free of charge under the new plan either.
She also said students unable to meet these costs may have other options, such as qualifying for Medicaid or opting to use an insurance plan not affiliated with the college. Students with financial concerns, she said, should discuss these with the Office of Student Financial Services.
Students are expected to be officially notified of the exact changes in June, when the final details are confirmed.