Assurance of Insurance: International students' health insurance, what happens next
Mandated health insurance policy series, part three
Editor's Note: This article is the third story in a three-part series. Reporter Masha Smahliuk is an undergraduate international student. This did not affect reporting in any way.
Central Michigan University international students were automatically enrolled in a 12-month premium health insurance plan, provided by GeoBlue, on Aug. 12. That day, $638.40 was charged to their student billing accounts. Students and faculty have been outspoken regarding their views on how the university communicated this mandated health insurance policy.
Now that conversations are stirring on campus, what happens next?
International students are now holding their breath, waiting; scrolling through piles of emails; leading and attending meetings; and voicing their opinions in a survey and online petition. International students took the lead in advocating for the university to make changes to the insurance policy.
More on what the new health insurance policy for international students is, the GeoBlue insurance provider, how history has repeated itself and opinions of students and faculty can be found in parts one and two of the Central Michigan Life series.
Jennifer DeHaemers is the vice president of the Student Recruitment and Retention Office, so her primary focus is bringing and keeping students to CMU. DeHaemers said she saw a lot of international students, and she has respect for them for being brave enough to leave their home, come to another country and build a completely different life.
"I've always had deep appreciation for international students," she said. "I've always thought that international students are extremely courageous, determined (and) academically gifted."
Now international students are facing another hardship in the form of the mandated health insurance policy. Himal Roka, who is a doctoral student from Nepal, launched a survey and a petition with a group of students. Of the 311 students who participated as of Oct. 11, 92% confirmed the new policy was a burden financially and mentally.
Deepmala Rana Bhat, the president of the International Student Organization (ISO), together with four other members of ISO took international students' concerns about the mandated insurance policy and price to President Bob Davies Oct. 3.
“He (Davies) was positive about changes that (are) needed," Rana Bhat said. "He also asked us lots of question to see what the problem was. And he created the taskforce with different departments such as Office of Global Engagement, ISO and other students.”
On Nov. 1 Renee Watson, a vice president of Student Affairs, said she had a meeting with Roka's group of students and Rana Bhat about different international students' needs.
Davies charged Watson, DeHaemers and CMU Provost Nancy Mathews with addressing international students' concerns, and the three Vice Presidents formed an ad hoc committee.
What is an ad hoc committee?
An ad hoc committee is a special committee that is going to be addressing questions of international students. Mathews explained the name "ad hoc'" is used with committees that are created for a specific time or issue.
Lack of transportation, more job opportunities and other issues concerning international students have been often spread among different departments at CMU, Mathews said. A need for a better coordination emerged from the recent, rapid growth of the international population, she said. The committee works on enhancing communication and access to it for international students.
Mathews initiated the committee in the first week of November after hearing from Davies about international students' concerns. Davies will be getting updates on a work of the committee, but he is not a member of it.
Mathews said the ad hoc committee is intended to work as a one-stop-shop for international students' resources. Watson said a group of experts and appointed liaisons are going to work directly with the students to assist with their needs.
Neither ISO members nor any other international students were included in the committee; however, Mathews discussed potentially having international students sit on an advisory board. Because it is not common practice to invite students to an administrative process, but is important to understand students' perspective, the committee will regularly meet and hear from the students.
"When we formed the committee, it was not with the idea that they tackle any one of these issues that students have brought to us," Matthews said. "But how do we bring together people who can talk to them about the questions?"
Committee members are an inclusive group of representatives from several areas across the university, such as student billing, global engagement, recruiting and others. They are going to be working on hearing students' problems and identifing solutions for them. Then Mathews, Watson and DeHaemers will be reviewing and discussing those solutions.
The committee consists of eight members:
- Brian Bell, director, Student Account Services and University Billing
- Jennifer Evanuik, executive director, Office of Global Engagement
- Erica Johnson, interim assistant vice president for Student Affairs
- Evan Montague, executive director, Office of Student Success, which includes academic advising and assistance
- Nikita Murray, director, Diversity Education
- Tracy Nakajima, director, International Student and Scholar Services
- Erica Peters, executive assistant to the Provost
- Ling Zhang, director, Graduate & International Recruitment
Watson said the committee will help departments to stay connected and merge efforts to help international students' concerns.
"We now need someone to hone in on what are we hearing more frequently and how we can be more impactful by addressing those concerns in a more timely fashion," Watson said.
During the week of Nov. 14, the Ad Hoc Committee for International Students had its first meeting to address opportunities and accessibility concerns. The Academic Senate held a meeting Nov. 15 to discuss this, too, as well as other projects the university is tending to.
"We’re looking at this from a systemic level, so that we can make sure that we’re looking at root causes of some of the concerns that students have brought forward before we jump to an automatic fix," Mathews said at the academic senate meeting.
During the week of Dec. 12, the committee completed its work of identifing and recommending solutions to international students' issues. Next, Mathews, Watson and DeHaemers will meet to discuss offered solutions.
CMU’s Guidelines for students being exempt from the policy
According to CMU’s website, the GeoBlue plan is mandated, and outside health insurance plans will not satisfy the requirement.
However, international students can be exempt from the policy if they provide evidence of health insurance through:
· a U.S. spouse;
· a U.S. employer;
· a U.S.-based parent or domestic partner.
Students may request a waiver if they satisfy those requirements. Requests can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Travel and emergency-only insurances, Medicaid and Canadian Health Coverage are not acceptable for a waiver.
Students are eligible to sign up for a payment plan for the insurance policy. There is a $55 fee to sign up for the payment plan, and students must have a U.S. bank account or credit card to pull the payment from.
There are no requirements to sign up for a payment plan before the start of courses or semester, Ari Harris, executive director of communications, said. However, if students have a past-due balance and sign up for a payment plan after the start of the semester, this may "pose challenges," Harris said.
For the spring payment plan, students were able to sign up as early as Nov. 1, and can register as late as Feb. 5, Harris said. All students, including domestic and international, should have received two emails from One Central regarding payment plans, sent on Nov. 15 and Dec. 1.
Students have three payment plan options available, which include:
· Five payments per semester: The last day to register was Dec. 5 and the first payment was due Dec. 10.
· Four payments per semester: The last sign up date is Jan. 5 and the first payment is due Jan. 10.
· Three payments per semester: The last sign up date is Feb. 5 and the first payment is due Feb. 10.
The last payment will be due April 10 for all payment plans.
What happens next?
According to International Student Insurance, depending on what one’s school allows, private insurance options are available.
The website said that for students who find themselves questioning the price of their school's insurance plan, private insurance may be the option for a more affordable plan "that provides coverage for the things that you need."
The ISO plans offer comparable coverage to the school’s waiver requirements and has plans starting at $31 per month.
At ISO, each insurance plan is designed based on two factors: the federal government requirements for each visa status and a school’s waiver requirements. ISO customizes plans to meet each school’s waiver requirements, and all plans shown on the ISO website meet school’s requirements, whether it is university or community college, high school or ESL institute.
Students may also participate in the survey or online petition that Roka's group of international students put together.
If you have questions, contact the Office of Global Engagement International Student and Scholar Services at email@example.com.