By Allura Morneau, Staff Reporter
The new federal insurance policy requires the University of Maine at Farmington (UMF) to provide insurance for students who are uninsured at the students’ expense. Students were notified in the spring that they would need to have coverage by the start of the fall semester, causing uninsured students to scramble to find coverage or figure out a way to pay for the plan offered through the university.
According to the website for accepting or declining the Student Health Insurance Plan (SHIP), the plan is affordable and benefits students who do not have any alternatives. The coverage, however is not optional for most uninsured students. “In response to the new federal health insurance requirements for the college-age population, the University of Maine, in collaboration with the University of Maine System, is pleased to offer an affordable Student Health Insurance Plan for 2014. The insurance plan has an annual premium of $942, a tremendous value compared to the current student health insurance plan of $2,990” (www.crossagency.com).
Undergraduates enrolled in 9 credits or more and graduate students enrolled in 6 credits or more must provide, “adequate health insurance as a condition of enrollment,” if they do not wish to have the added premium charge to their student tuition bill. There is no deductible, and SHIP provides 100% coverage on sickness and injury expenses, with a maximum annual benefit amount of $2,500.
Nathan Carey, a UMF senior, felt that he had no choice but to purchase the policy. “Well, originally I wasn’t going to have any health insurance because I really couldn’t afford it,” said Carey, “but when the school forced us to buy it and made it part of the enrollment costs, I realized I had to pay or I couldn’t come back to school, and not coming back to school was not an option.”
Carey, like many students, cannot afford insurance. When he enrolled for classes, the SHIP premium had been automatically charged to his account. He works two part-time jobs and is also a full-time student. “I am independant. I have been ever since high school. I have been putting myself through college,” said Carey.
Like many other students, he pays for his tuition himself with the assistance of financial aid. Federal Student Aid (FSA) can be used to cover the cost of SHIP for students who qualify. “I was able to get it covered with FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), but because of my income, I had to dip into the unsubsidized loans, which accrues interest while I’m in school,” said Carey. “I think I didn’t need to take out the entire $942 dollars. I think I only needed to take out $500, but that’s still $500 I didn’t want to accrue interest on.”
Carey feels that some students may benefit from having the coverage available, but that it is also unfair that it’s mandatory and not optional. “It’s taking away the choice. And unfortunately, that’s the way the federal government decided it’s going to be,” said Carey.
He did want to highlight the fact that the regulations concerning the new insurance policy was not the fault of UMF or the University of Maine System. “A lot of the [students] are mad at the school for doing this, but a lot of [students] don’t realize that the school is required to provide health insurance by federal law, according to the Affordable Care Act,” said Carey. The university is obligated to comply with federal regulations.
There are many health related things that the SHIP policy does not cover, as outlined on the Cross Agency summary. These include: learning disabilities, regular dental care, hearing examinations, immunizations, injury caused by any drugs or medicines that are not taken in the recommended dosage or for the purpose prescribed by the insured person’s physician, or prescription drug services or supplies except as provided in the benefits for diabetes treatment. Students will have to pay out of pocket for medical related expenses incurred that are not covered by the SHIP plan.
Jamie LaPiere, a non-traditional senior, is a female-to-male transgender individual (transman) who is now covered by the SHIP. As a transman, he needs regular hormone injections to balance his body chemistries. As SHIP does not cover his medication or hypodermic needles, he would have prefered not paying for the policy at all. Instead he could have used that money to pay for his medications. “I feel like [the insurance] is being exclusionary to trans students,” said LaPiere. “I’m paying about $900 for medical coverage I can’t use. I can understand not covering surgery, but not covering the meds we need?”
LaPiere’s medications are about $190 for a ten milliliter bottle at his pharmacy. He believes that SHIP could be very beneficial for students, but disagrees with the way it was forced upon them. “It’s nice they offer something, but it stinks that it’s the only option and not customizable.”
Sophomore Matthew McPherson really appreciates SHIP, “It’s kind of a platform to stand on. If there is ever an accident resulting in an injury a student couldn’t afford to have looked at, the insurance could prevent their financial situation from affecting their academic career.”
To waive or accept SHIP, go to: http://crossagency.com/umaineinsurance
The deadline to accept or decline SHIP is October 1st. Failure to waive SHIP after that deadline will result in the charge remaining on the student’s bill. Failure to pay for the policy or complete the waiver could prevent students from registering for courses in the future.