Campus / News / January 28, 2009

Communication gap evident regarding student health insurance

By the time an individual reaches the age of 18, signing a legal form of documentation becomes a habitual procedure that seems as simple and ordinary as a routine check-up at the doctor’s office. When receiving one of multiple contracts in the mail prior to the commencement of a new school year, a student typically shares the information with a parent or guardian, glances over its contents, and decides whether or not to transfer a quick signature to the paper. With some forms, this procedure is safe and reasonable. But when it comes to health insurance, neglecting to read details pertaining to accident and sickness relief provided through a college insurance plan can turn an emergency trip to the doctor’s office into an even greater dilemma.

In July of 2007, the Knox College student body received a bulky packet of information in the mail that sought to outline the school’s student health insurance policy and to inform students about a supplemental insurance program, athletic health insurance, and Knox Health Services. In addition to referencing health/medical history forms, the letter required students to complete an enclosed Insurance Application/Waiver card by Sept. 24, 2007. Not only did the letter provide details pertaining to the Knox Accident and Sickness Insurance Plan, but it also required students to sign a form acknowledging that they would be protected by health insurance: either by Knox’s Student Insurance Plan, a private insurance provider, or a combination of the two. The fact that all this information is mailed to students during the summer before every school year does not imply that all Knox students are aware of its content.

Even though it can be burdensome for a college student to stay informed about the countless legal documents that come with adulthood, gaining awareness about student health insurance is essential to the health and well-being of every member of the Knox community. According to junior Lynda Gerry, “Even if we, as students, can’t afford health insurance, it’s important to know what it entails.”

The Knox College student body is privileged in that students are automatically enrolled in the college’s health insurance plan, unless they choose to be covered by a private insurance provider instead. Jimmy Stewart, Assistant Director of Campus Life, worked closely with health insurance policy at the University of Arkansas before coming to Knox. At the University of Arkansas, health insurance personnel felt compelled to conduct a marketing campaign so that the number of students possessing health insurance would not be limited to one third. Unfortunately, because the parents of many Knox students often deal with health forms, many students lack knowledge about their health insurance coverage and are not able to appreciate the fact that Knox requires all of its students to have health insurance.

Although parental involvement is encouraged when it comes to health matters, if students do not take the initiative to inform themselves about insurance issues, then gaps in their knowledge can lead to more serious problems. Few students realize that while Knox’s plan is offered to all students even if they must take leave for an emergency, an incredible financial hassle could result if an accident happens to prevent them from maintaining the full-time student status that gives them insurance coverage only under a parents’ plan.

Senior Hannah Gdalman’s direct experience with such an issue led her to regret not gaining awareness or coverage by Knox College’s Accident and Sickness Insurance Plan, when physical therapy for a recent knee surgery was not covered by her parents’ current insurance plan. According to Stewart, “The biggest problem with health insurance at Knox is that most people stay on their parents’ insurance.” Even though being covered by one’s parents might seem like a more financially feasible route to risk protection, Stewart says, “While many policies that parents have are just fine, some policies are too strict about student status.”

The root of the health insurance dilemmas faced by Knox students is that not enough students know about the general policy and benefits of the school’s health insurance plan. As predicted by Stewart and confirmed through a survey of students ranging from freshmen to seniors, a student’s parents are the ones who tend to fill out insurance forms and take responsibility for the role of health insurance in their child’s life.

When asked about his experience with health insurance forms and policies, freshman Bob Carey said, “Health insurance is not something that I worry about much because it is not a big issue in my life right now.” Other students, like junior Keren Bhujel, say that Knox insurance personnel do not keep them adequately informed about the school’s health insurance system. Bhujel says, “When I first came to Knox, I didn’t really know about Knox College student health insurance. An informative session dealing with health insurance policy, during freshman year, would have been helpful.”

However, a portion of Knox’s freshman orientation is already dedicated to presenting first-years with information regarding student health insurance. There is also a website outlining Knox’s supplemental health insurance policies. According to Lisa Welch, Secretary and Health Services Coordinator, “When you’re a college student, there are more important things on your mind besides health insurance plans and what they cover. You don’t think about health insurance until you need it.”

Despite the fact that brochures and contracts on Knox College’s Accident and Insurance Plan have been sent home to students for years, the benefits of Knox health insurance are indistinguishable from those of a private insurance plan according to much of the Knox student body. It is clear that a communication gap exists between students, parents, and administrative health insurance personnel, and that this gap could prevent students from obtaining the health insurance coverage that they deserve. If students make a greater effort to independently seek out the health care information that is available, and if Knox College health insurance personnel explore different ways to communicate the Knox health insurance policy, then health insurance awareness and protection will become less of a pressing issue. For an issue as serious as health insurance, ignorance is not a cost for which Knox students should have to pay on the next bill.

Elise Hyser

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