Macalester discusses health insurance consortium

By Heather Johansen

Macalester is currently exploring the idea of forming an insurance consortium with local colleges in order to lower premium costs to comply with expanding policy limits under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). These local colleges would buy a larger plan together in an effort to lower student costs. “The goal for any partnership is to reduce the cost of the policy for students by increasing the size of the pool who are enrolled, ” said Denise Ward, Associate Dean for Student Services in Health and Wellness. “Obviously, given the differences in institutions, this is a complex issue.” The ACA set minimum policy limits for student health plans over the next few years. Policy limits dictate the amount of health care coverage that students must receive under the college health care plan. Current ACA regulations require a $100,000 minimum policy limit; next year (2013-14) this will increase to $500,000 and by 2014-15 there will be no upward limit on health care benefits. Last year Macalester’s policy limit was $90,000, the minimum that met the NCAA athlete requirement. Only administrators from ACTC member schools have met to discuss explore possibilities, but other private Minnesota colleges could potentially be included. For now the project is entirely preliminary. “We have not yet determined if this is something that could work for the schools involved,” Ward said. “We are simply looking for ways to provide the best coverage for students and to keep policy premiums at the lowest possible price…it could be all the schools or it could be one or two or it could be none.” Right now the only two local schools that use Aetna, Macalester’s health care provider, are the University of St. Thomas and St. Catherine’s University. This could eventually expand. “It may be that a consortium would be even more attractive if the ACA is withdrawn as more students may need coverage,” Ward said. Ward said it is difficult to predict what students will pay for insurance provided through the college in the coming years because of increasing policy limits. “It is also impacted by our utilization level,” she said. “At present, we have one of the least expensive policies but also are offering lower limits than some of the other schools. We want to keep this financially accessible but at the same time provide adequate coverage for student needs.” The ACA has also allowed more students to stay on their parents’ insurance plans, since the age limit is now 26. But complexities around the ACA arise because in order to comply with its regulations all colleges are required to offer coverage for sexual health and birth control. Catholic or other religious institutions are going to have a challenge addressing this requirement,” Ward said. One of the institutions that will struggle with this is the University of St. Thomas. However, on Jan. 20, 2012 United States Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius authorized a temporary enforcement of safe harbor that allows for an exemption as a non-profit organization with religious objections to contraceptive coverage. St. Thomas invoked this enforcement, but it only remains in effect until the beginning of the next plan year, which starts on Aug. 1, 2013. “Much is dependent upon the upcoming presidential elections and the continuation of the Affordable Care Act in regards to contraceptive coverage without cost sharing,” said Madonna McDermott, Director of Health Service and Wellness Center at St. Thomas. Regardless of what happens with the election or plan changes, Ward said there should be no differences in the services offered by the Health and Wellness Center on campus. “Any changes in the policy offered by Macalester to students should not directly affect any services provided by the Health and Wellness Center,” she said. “Students do not need to have the college-offered policy in order to use the resources of the HWC and we currently provide the majority of services at no charge.” refresh –>