New insurance plan set for fall

Effective in September, Northeastern students will be offered a health insurance plan that provides expanded coverage, limits on out-of-pocket costs for students and no annual cap on what will be covered.

The new plan is the result of meetings and consultations that began in the fall, when a committee was assembled to examine the current insurance plan and discuss improvements, said Brian Burns, director of risk management.

Several students sat on the committee, including Student Government Association (SGA) Vice President for Student Services Rogan O’Handley, who was elected to be the next SGA president last week. O’Handley said the group compared Northeastern’s insurance plan, currently handled by The Chickering Group, a branch of Aetna, to the programs at American University, Boston College, Boston University, Tufts University and George Washington University. All but Tufts are schools in the “Lucky 13” schools that Northeastern compares itself to, and Tufts was used because it is a comparable area school, O’Handley said. He said they made sure to use schools in the northeast, because it is an expensive region for health care.

“We were near the bottom,” O’Handley said. “With this new plan, we went from being near the bottom of the Lucky 13 to being at the top.”

The major changes include a higher lifetime benefit maximum. While the current plan has a maximum of $75,000, the new plan will cover up to $10 million in expenses. The plan also limits annual out-of-pocket expenses to $3,000, while the current plan does not limit the amount a student might spend in a year. Referrals will not be required either, and no pre-existing conditions will be excluded from coverage, Burns said.

He also said having a major company like Blue Cross/Blue Shield is a benefit because students can get coverage in any area of the country. He said this is particularly beneficial for Northeastern students, who may find themselves on co-op in other areas of the country.

“We send kids all over the country, and we want to make sure they’re getting care,” Burns said.

He said that with the new plan, he hopes more students will get their insurance through Northeastern. Out of 18,000 eligible students, 4,700 students now use Northeastern insurance, he said.

“We’re hopeful we’re going to be able to offer something to increase participation,” Burns said. He said the university hired a consultant who recently revamped Dartmouth’s insurance program and tripled student participation.

Burns said an added bonus of the program is that it will only cost an additional $90 per year. He said if Northeastern had kept the Aetna plan, the cost would have increased 9 percent this year to about $1,600 for the year. Instead, with the switch to Blue Cross, the cost will be $1,690 for the year.

Burns said it’s important for students to have a meaningful insurance option, because it’s becoming harder for students to stay on their parents’ insurance as policies become more restrictive.

Vincent Lowney, a sophomore political science major who uses Northeastern’s current insurance plan, is in favor of the changes.

“I like it. I like the no referrals and the outpatient benefits,” Lowney said. “They were definitely affecting me. It’d be much better if I didn’t have to deal with it.”

Lowney said he was directly affected by the outpatient benefit limit when he herniated a disk while playing varsity crew.

Burns said there are also changes to the state insurance regulations, which will require all students to have a domestic insurance plan. Burns said, with this change, Northeastern will now require international students to subscribe to the Northeastern plan, starting next year.

O’Handley said the plan will be a positive step for student life.

“I’m hoping students can now rely on this plan as being comprehensive and a quality plan students can feel safe in having,” he said.

For students like Derek Garcia, a first-year law student covered under the plan, the outlook is positive.

“Unlimited outpatient benefits is something that I’m totally supportive of,” Garcia said. “I’m in favor of universal healthcare, so any step closer to that ideal is good.”

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