Over 500 students are enrolled in Macalester’s Aetna Student Health Plan this year. The plan, which has the lowest premium cost of any of the Associated Colleges of the Twin Cities (ACTC) schools’ plans, will have to undergo drastic changes in the coming years to accommodate the newly instituted Affordable Care Act (ACA). This legislation will require Macalester to provide more comprehensive health coverage and higher limit coverage than before, resulting in a greater cost to the college.
The policy limit for this school year is $100,000, but it will increase to $500,000 for 2013-2014.
Director of Health and Wellness Denise Ward said that despite this increase, “We want to continue to provide affordable care to students.”
In order to realize this desire, Macalester is considering a health care consortium with other ACTC schools. Ward has been working with health services departments at the schools, which include St. Catherine’s, Augsburg, Hamline and St. Thomas, to develop a plan for the potential consortium. A combined plan would create a pool of several thousand students, therefore reducing the cost that each students pays as a premium. As the ACA causes insurance costs to increase, explained Ward, a consortium would counteract the effect by lowering costs. Including more students in a policy spreads the cost so that each student pays a smaller fraction into a larger insurance plan.
“The potential benefits of participating in a consortium would hopefully include a richer benefit plan for all of the ACTC students with a decreased cost,” said St. Thomas Director of Health Services and Wellness Center Madonna McDermott.
Each of the five colleges, however, has distinct values and priorities that it brings to the negotiating table.
“Aspects of the benefit plan that remain important to St. Thomas include…the ability to continue to provide high quality, safe and cost effective health care and eliminate barriers to access for health care,” said McDermott.
University of St. Thomas has also been opposed to providing contraceptives to its students and used a safe harbor exemption from the ACA requirement to do so this year. The exemption, a provision of the health care legislation, allows institutions to opt out of the necessity to cover contraceptives on religious grounds.
This runs contrary to Macalester’s beliefs on birth control.
“We are committed to covering costs around contraceptives,” said Ward. She also stressed that Macalester is concerned with covering reproductive and transgender health issues, among other costs.
Opposing ideals such as these add to the difficulties of working out a health insurance policy to which all parties agree.
A solution is that the ACTC schools purchase a standard policy, then allow each institution to add or change specific details to accommodate its values and needs.
Ward said that various insurance companies have been working to formulate a plan that would fit these criteria.
“The insurance companies’ proposals just came in,” she said, “and the decision process should move along this month.”
McDermott said that despite benefits, a consortium can also bring limitations.
“If St. Thomas and the other ACTC schools establish a consortium, there may be less opportunity to vary from the established platform or nationally established benefit plan,” she said. “That may mean that some schools…may potentially lose some aspects of the benefit plan they currently have.”
It is undecided whether the consortium would be through Aetna, Macalester’s current health insurance provider. St. Thomas and St. Catherine’s both use Aetna as well.
Despite the potential help of a consortium, insurance costs might still increase for students next year because of the increased standards of the ACA.
“We are hopeful that the UST student health insurance cost will not increase for the 2013-14 academic year,” said McDermott, but it will depend on an array of factors.
Ward said that the ACA will mostly likely bring an increased cost for Macalester students, who currently pay an usually low premium.
“Students should expect some sort of increase regardless of the consortium,” she said.
The health insurance consortium, which has involved ongoing discussions between the five schools, is not a certainty for the next school year.
“We will know if there will be a consortium between the schools by March,” said Ward.