Costs and Coverage: Breaking Down the Student Health Insurance Program

Exorbitant prices, inadequate coverage, and tedious waivers are all common descriptions employed by university students when discussing their school health insurance. The UC San Diego Student Health Insurance Program undoubtedly has aspects that need improving. However, contrary to popular belief, SHIP manages to provide comprehensive benefits at a reasonable price, equaling or surpassing similar programs at other national universities.

In order to get an accurate image of where SHIP stands compared to the typical university insurance program, a comparison was made between the insurance programs of the top 10 schools with the highest ranking and highest enrollment, according to the U.S. News & World Report. At UCSD, SHIP costs $1,953 per year, a fairly competitive price when compared to the other selected universities. The mean and median student insurance costs were $3,367 and $3,174, respectively, for schools with the highest ranking and $2,490 and $2,318, respectively, for the schools with the highest enrollment. Evidently, when it comes to pricing, SHIP manages to beat the majority of private and public schools that it was compared to.

As far as enrollment for school insurance goes, UCSD uses an opt-out program, which is by far the most favored option among all the universities looked at. Opt-out programs automatically enroll students in the school insurance program and require students to deliberately fill a waiver if they have an outside provider. Similar forms of automatic enrollment have been used to increase enrollment rates in various spheres and have been used to encourage the usage of 401(k) pension plans, free public school lunches, and the Affordable Care Act’s insurance policies. According to legal scholar Cass Sunstein and behavioral economist Richard Thaler, people are often “influenced by default rules, framing effects and starting points.” Thus, making small changes such as automatically enrolling students in the school health insurance will increase the number of students who receive sufficient insurance coverage while still providing an option for those who wish to opt-out.

There is certainly more that UCSD and other schools could do to make insurance more accessible to the student body. A common trend observed was that student health centers, including Student Health Services, did not accept any forms of insurance other than the one provided by the school. Currently, as reported by the Student Health Insurance Office, SHS is unable to bill other insurance companies “due to special arrangements [it] has with Anthem Blue Cross,” meaning that for a student who waived UC SHIP “any services received will be [their] responsibility … to pay.” The school does offer a program called the Reduced Access Fee for Tritons for $60 a quarter,  yet it only allows students to make appointments “at SHS for care of illness or injury,” not for checkups or other general health reasons. Though RAFT provides some form on-campus healthcare for students not using SHIP, much more can be done. After all, students should be able to use the insurance they have to receive on-campus health care.

Health insurance is an especially complicated issue that will take considerable time and energy to be fixed or even comprehensively assessed. Yet by gaining a greater understanding of the subject, students will be able to make a better decision regarding their health insurance options and also push UCSD to regularly improve the coverage it provides.