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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

September 22, 2017   |   Ithaca, NY

News

State cites college’s health insurance

A recent investigation by New York state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo’s office has led to the subpoenaing of 10 of the largest college-sponsored health insurance companies in the country, including United Healthcare Insurance Company, the Ithaca College-sponsored insurance company.
In early April, Cuomo’s office sent out a letter to more than 300 colleges, universities, professional and trade schools, including Ithaca College, urging college administrators to review their sponsored health insurance plans. Cuomo’s office found that college-sponsored health insurance plans are collecting higher premium rates than what is being paid out in benefits.

Cuomo’s office also found that some student insurance plans failed to cover students with pre-existing conditions, forcing these students to pay full price for medical treatment and put unreasonably low coverage caps on treatment options.

In an April 8 press release, Cuomo said that college insurance plans only covered a maximum of $700 on some treatment options and provided an “inadequate level” of coverage of prescription drugs.

“I want to share with you some of the findings of my investigation so that you may consider whether any health insurance plan you may be offering to your students should be re­evaluated,” Cuomo said in the letter.

A spokesperson for Cuomo’s office could not be reached for comment.

The college requires all students to have health insurance, either through their own insurance company or the college’s. United Healthcare Insurance Company costs $430 a year.

With about 2,841 students on the United Healthcare insurance program at Ithaca, Nancy Pringle, vice president and general counsel of legal affairs, said the college plans to consider the attorney general’s recommendations when evaluating health care insurance plans.

“When evaluating our health care program options from now on, what [the college] does … will be in compliance with what the attorney general’s office is doing,” Pringle said.

Laura Keefe, manager of Health Center Operations at the Hammond Health Center, said the Health Center rarely receives complaints about the coverage of students.

“[The Health Center] receives fairly few complaints regarding the insurance plan,” Keefe said. “The few complaints that we do receive are widely varied in scope and nature.”

Will Holman, a spokesman for United Healthcare, said the insurance company is planning to work with the attorney general’s office in the investigation.

“We continually strive to improve access to quality, effective health care for all Americans, including students,” Holman said. “We have been actively working with the New York attorney general on this issue and remain committed to providing colleges and universities with affordable coverage that gives students meaningful access to health care services.”

Cuomo’s letter outlined malpractices of insufficient and costly coverage, conflicting broker interests, financial contributions made to colleges, misuse of the Medicaid system, duplicative coverage and unfair exclusion of students with existing conditions.

Cuomo also offered more than a half-dozen recommendations for college administrators to consider while evaluating sponsored health insurance plans. These recommendations included: providing adequate coverage, preventative care, controlling relationships with brokers, providing exemptions to students on Medicaid, adequately disclosing costs of mandatory coverage and rejecting unfair exclusions.

Cuomo’s office created a website, www.nystudenthealth.com, that allows New York residents to file complaints and review information in the ongoing investigation.

Freshman Amanda Rissmeyer, who uses the college’s sponsored health insurance plan, said she has experienced shortcomings with the United Healthcare coverage.

Rissmeyer said she feels bad for students who do not have the ability to waive the college’s health plan.

“[Students who don’t waive] are basically being forced into buying the expensive coverage,” Rissmeyer said. “It is incredibly unfair if they are paying all this money to a company that is not covering them adequately.”

Pringle said the college is different compared to other colleges because it gives students the ability to waive the United Healthcare coverage plan.

“The good news for students at the college is they are allowed to waive the college health insurance plan if they wish,” Pringle said. “Most institutions require students to enroll in their health insurance programs, and that has never been the case at Ithaca College.”