Student health insurance

Last updated: June 25, 2012

Student success and quality of education are our primary concerns and goals at Michigan State University. To help ensure that success and as part of long-term dedication to student health, MSU in 2011 began requiring incoming students to carry health insurance, a national standard as outlined by the American College Health Association.

The vast majority of MSU students come to campus with health insurance.  This policy always has been about providing access to the small group of students that otherwise may not be able to afford health insurance.  Given the funding restrictions passed by the state Legislature, MSU is updating its policy to provide that access while giving individuals the ability to make a choice.

MSU continues to strongly recommend all students carry health insurance; however, students will not be auto-enrolled or auto-billed for health insurance and will have the right to not carry a policy. Before they can enroll in classes, students will be required to complete a form indicating whether they have insurance, intend to purchase insurance or choose not to acquire insurance. Students who choose not to carry a policy will acknowledge they are responsible for their own health care costs beyond the three free visits to Student Health Services.

The policy continues to allow students who need to buy insurance the ability to build it into their financial aid package, while those students who wish to carry the responsibility for their medical costs may do so.

Students who do not have access to health insurance can still acquire an affordable policy. Students can purchase insurance from any carrier, but for those who cannot afford insurance on the commercial market, the university and MSU student association (ASMSU) have obtained access to plans that provide a range of coverage for cost-effective rates otherwise not available.

Again, MSU strongly recommends all students carry insurance. Uninsured students are at a greater risk for being unable to afford medical care needed for their continued health and studies, and the university wants to ensure students have access to all clinical services.

The following facts provide more information:

  • 80 to 85 percent of incoming students indicate they already have health insurance through their parents or other policies. Some of those students may want to review the Aetna plan offered through MSU to compare as it might be cheaper.
  • The university has used its market position to obtain a low-cost insurance plan from Aetna (MSU is not making any money itself by requiring insurance of students; the billed amount is passed directly to Aetna) that includes hospitalization and mental health care with no pre-existing condition restrictions.
  • Financial risks to students from health care needs are real. For the 2010-2011 plan year, MSU students enrolled in the Aetna Health Insurance plan made 29 claims for catastrophic coverage in excess of $25,000. According to a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) analysis, 18 percent of uninsured college students will incur a significant medical debt. Also, college-age students fall within the number one cohort of patients seen for injury-related visits to the emergency rooms.
  • Academic risks are significant; uninsured students can find themselves unable to continue their university education due to costs associated with illness or injury. Students identify one of the primary reasons for missed classes as illness, and untreated illness often results in poor of even failing performance. Poor and failing grades can increase the time needed to graduate, and in some cases, can result in failure to graduate. Investments made by the individual, family, the university and the state of Michigan in that student's education are wasted, and that student now has medical debt and may have student loan debt as well. The student not only leaves the university without a degree but also with a significant debt burden.
  • The student health insurance policy negotiated by MSU covers behavioral health care claims. Several types of significant mental health issues can emerge during college years. The campus counseling center and student health center regularly arrange transport from campus to local hospitals for immediate treatment and evaluation of students who may pose a risk to themselves. Risks to individuals and others are real when there is a lack of appropriate treatment and care for mental health issues. Campus health care services are not equipped to treat crisis or long-term mental health care needs.
  • Public health risks exist as well. About 16,000 students live in MSU's residence halls. All students share common space in cafeterias, restrooms, classrooms, laboratories and sports facilities. MSU does not want a student with a communicable disease to not seek medical treatment because he or she cannot afford a doctor.
  • While MSU provides basic primary care services at Student Health Services clinics (each student has three visits per year at no charge), the clinics are not equipped to provide any type of advanced diagnostic testing, trauma care, surgical care or in-patient services. The student health clinics assist in identifying significant health issues which might be disguised as a simple health issue, but its services are not an adequate substitute for comprehensive health insurance coverage. Additionally, referral to community medical providers for severe or acute problems may become increasingly difficult for students without adequate health insurance.

To read the testimony from Provost Kim Wilcox before the Higher Education Appropriations Subcomittee, click here.