April 10, 2000 

Contact: Bob Bruce, 503-725-5714
Sources: Elizabeth Dickenson, OUS risk manager, 541-346-5772

Mandatory Health Insurance Recommended for OUS Students

PORTLAND -- A special statewide task force is recommending mandatory health insurance coverage for all students of the Oregon University System.

The recommendation will be submitted to the Oregon State Board of Higher Education at its Friday, April 21, meeting in Portland. If approved, it could mean that most students attending Oregon's public universities eventually will be covered by the same basic health insurance plan. 

Historically, Portland State University is the only one of Oregon's seven public university campuses that has required students to purchase health insurance. Other campuses have provided voluntary insurance programs. But as changes in health care costs have led to higher premiums, fewer students have opted to participate in the voluntary programs. The resulting smaller risk pools also have added to premium costs. 

"The end result is that voluntary plans are disappearing from the market-both the employer and the student health market," says Elizabeth Dickenson, OUS risk manager. 

"If you can find a carrier willing to quote a voluntary plan, the costs are enormous. The mandatory basic plan allows us to create a larger risk pool at minimal cost to the students. And, since it is first dollar primary coverage, it works with any other plan a student may have. It can be used to satisfy a deductible on another plan. 

"It also solves the problem for some students of having access to a parental plan which doesn't pay out-of-area costs. Rather than having to go home, the student will have the ability to receive medical services locally."

The task force was created last July. It was charged with looking at how to make health insurance affordable for all students. After studying existing programs and what other states are doing, its members believe the solution is to create a plan that provides basic health coverage. They also believe creating a risk pool of 60,000 will help to make the coverage affordable, even to those who are not currently eligible to continue coverage under a parent's or employer's plan. They estimate the basic plan will cost students between $14 and $17 per term.

"We believe that this collaborative approach to insuring students will allow us to provide greater access to those students for whom the lack of insurance is an impediment to attending college. Among those students are single parents and older-than-average students," says Larry Roper, vice provost for student affairs at Oregon State University, chair of the task force. "Achieving affordability and increasing access are among our primary goals."

"Offering students minimum insurance benefits ensures that student can receive appropriate access to medical care not available at the Student Health Center," notes Roseann Kendall, director of student health and counseling at Western Oregon University. 

"Our physician reports making an average of two referrals to outside providers each week of the academic year. Since our (existing) basic plan allows the student open access to providers and locations, students may see other clinicians as needed after hours and during school breaks."

"Many WOU students report a lack of health insurance coverage because of the cost of policies, ineligibility to continue on a parent's or spouse's policy or the predominance of employment-based coverage. The proposed systemwide, mandatory basic insurance for all students who pay the student health center fee is an important step in improving student access to health care."

If the task force recommendation is approved, OUS officials will seek bids from insurance carriers later this summer. They hope to complete an umbrella contract in time to implement basic coverage for students at the regional universities by the start of Fall Term classes in September. Existing insurance contracts held by the three largest campuses also need to be resolved. 

OUS includes Eastern Oregon University, La Grande; Oregon Institute of Technology, Klamath Falls; Oregon State University, Corvallis; Portland State University; Southern Oregon University, Ashland; the University of Oregon, Eugene; and Western Oregon University, Monmouth.

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