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ND colleges to hike health plan rates for U.S. students, cut international premiums

FARGO -- Changes to health insurance rates for students covered under the North Dakota University System will mean steep premium increases for students from the U.S. and a big discount for international students.

The premium changes, which apply to about 2,000 of the university system’s 47,000 students, will take effect this August, the beginning of the fall semester. This semester, 359 domestic students and 1,634 international students are enrolled in the health plan.

The change is being made because international students, who are required to carry the health insurance, use health services at much lower rates than U.S. students covered under the policy, according to an analysis presented recently to the State Board of Higher Education.

Students who get their health insurance through the plan now pay $2,496 per year. When the new rates take effect in the fall semester, domestic students will pay $3,860 and international students will pay $1,748 for coverage.

“The vast majority of our students are on their parents’ plan, if they’re under 26,” said Richard Rothaus, vice chancellor for academic and student affairs.

Before the Affordable Care Act, which required extending coverage under their parents’ plans to children age 25 or younger, health insurance provided by universities was inexpensive, since the young population seldom got sick. However, U.S. students who remain on the health plan tend to be older students or those with chronic health conditions, he said.

On the other hand, international students tend not to be heavy users of health care. Some of them are covered in their home countries, and international students are less familiar with how to access care, said Katie Fitzsimmons, director of student affairs for the university system.

“It’s almost like a supplemental health insurance policy for some international students,” she said.

The health coverage, which includes behavioral health coverage, is intended to protect students from the financial difficulties that could result from a major illness or injury, Rothaus said. High medical expenses are one reason some students don’t complete their studies.

“We think it’s worth the cost to avoid that risk,” he said.

The new health premium structure was approved by the university system’s Academic Affairs Council and the Student Affairs Council, and also has the support of the North Dakota Student Association.

Still, the premium rate increase likely will be a shock for domestic students, Rothaus said. Notifications are being sent to students, and campus meetings also will explain the changes.

“We want to get the word out there as much as we can,” he said. “There’s going to be some very unhappy students.”

Although domestic students face a sharp premium increase, the coverage is still a better value than many plans available on the online marketplace, Fitzsimmons said.

“It’s way cheaper than Obamacare for the same coverage,” she said. “It’s still a good deal.”