Health insurance policies changed following protest

Portions of the university health insurance policy that left many students confused about their eligibility for coverage options were waived following a protest by more than 65 international students last week, affected students said.

The changes bring many international students who had previously purchased health plans outside the university’s plan into compliance with university requirements.

The changes are posted on the myNEU Portal, and the deadline to waive Northeastern health insurance coverage has been moved back to this Friday to accommodate students who felt confused by the new requirements.

International students who spoke out against the policy in last week’s edition of The News said they were satisfied with the changes, and no longer take issue with the university’s health insurance policy.

“I think what they’ve done is what we want,” said Sudan Sethuramalingam, a graduate student from India who organized the protest last Wednesday. “We were not expecting it, but they made the changes.”

The controversy arose from changes to the Northeastern University Student Health Insurance Plan (NUSHIP) made in time for the start of this school year that changed the requirements for students to waive the university plan for coverage purchased from outside vendors. According to Massachusetts law, all college students must be insured.

Changes made to NUSHIP forced students who purchased external plans to have coverage options that were above the requirements mandated by Massachusetts law. For instance, students complained they were forced to have a lifetime benefit maximum of $10 million, while state law says students are required to have a maximum of only $1 million.

International students who bought an outside plan in the past were especially concerned that plans they bought before the start of this school year would not come into compliance with university requirements. Adding to the confusion, students said they were unable to find a policy outside of NUSHIP coverage that offered a $10 million lifetime benefit maximum.

With the deadline to waive NUSHIP coverage set for last Friday, Sethuramalingam went to the registrar’s office hoping to find a policy that would be in compliance last Wednesday morning. After getting few answers, he sent an e-mail to students he knew were affected by the policy urging them to gather in front of the registrar’s office outside Hayden Hall.

After the e-mail circulated throughout the afternoon, 65 to 70 students gathered outside Hayden Hall in hopes of meeting with David Winch, the university director of customer service, to press him on those issues.

Winch met with the students, but Sethuramalingam said the crowd left not satisfied with the results. After another meeting Thursday morning, Sethuramalingam said he still felt not satisfied, as administrators were unable to present a plan that met the $10 million requirement. Another meeting with administrators was set for Tuesday night.

“They’re looking at it from a point of managing the business, they’re not looking at listening to their customers,” Sethuramalingam said Tuesday.

Sethuramalingam and a handful of other students gathered Thursday night to prepare a presentation for Tuesday’s meeting, when they received word that the university had dropped all of the university-mandated requirements that went above and beyond Massachusetts law in external plans.

Winch said the university decided to make the changes after realizing how many students were not aware of them. He said the university mailed hard copies, sent e-mails and posted two announcements on the myNEU portal regarding changes since the new plan was announced.

“Despite these efforts, some students arrived on campus this fall unaware of the changes and were surprised to find the higher level of comparability needed to waive with an alternative plan … However, for this year, Northeastern agreed to use the Massachusetts level deemed ‘comparable’ in order to allow students to waive the university plan,” Winch said in an e-mail sent Tuesday night.

Sethuramalingam credited Scott Quint, dean of the International Student and Scholar Institute, with working as the go-between that encouraged the university to change their policy.

“I think he balanced the situation very well, and that’s why they came to a conclusion,” Sethuramalingam said.

Quint did not return phone calls seeking comment for this week or last week’s articles on this issue.

Simal Gaglani, president of the Graduate and Professional Student Association, said he is satisfied with the changes. He said the changes underscored the need to make a health insurance policy that did not lead to issues for students.

“What we are saying is that our plan is good, but let’s make it acceptable to a large number of students,” he said.

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