International Student Insurance Woes

Gwiwon Jason Nam, Staff Writer

Take a look at these numbers: 750, 846, and 947. Guess what these are. They are the amounts of money international students have paid for school insurance premiums during the fall semesters of 2014, 2015, and 2016. You can figure out how the premium significantly increased. Insurance premiums were a controversial issue at the check-in and welcome sessions among the new international students. Texas A&M University-Commerce’s International Students Service & Scholars office (ISSS) had been sending emails to the international students to provide information about the insurance, but many new international students have argued about the amount of the fees.

School started about four weeks ago, but some of the international students are still uncomfortable about their insurance premiums. One anonymous international student said, “I paid an insurance fee, but I did not want to pay because it is a heavy burden for students. But we don’t have choice. We must pay unless you can get exceptions,” he said. Once, there was a rumor that growing car accidents by international students is a specific cause for increasing premiums among the students.

What do you think about international students’ insurance premiums? For me, as an international student who pays that fee per semester, it is truly expensive. And the real problem is that the fee is gradually increasing, and I have never used this insurance before. Then what if I don’t have insurance? The answer is that it is impossible to enroll in a class without having insurance. According to the Texas A&M System Regulations, international students entering the U.S. with an F or J student Visa/Status are required to be covered under the Texas A&M University System Student Health Insurance Plan (SSHIP) or have equivalent insurance coverage as described below.

According to Cynthia Todhunter, Human Resources benefits coordinator of the A&M-Commerce Human Resources Department benefits office, “ the A&M System office determines what company we use for the insurance and that company is who decides the price rage.” For the international students’ insurance, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas (BCBST) is the insurance provider. The Academic Health Plans (AHP) provides management for the A&M system. The A&M System Office of Risk Management and Benefits Administration handles the decision process. Todhunter admitted that the international student insurance premium is expensive, and she said “as employer’s plan, we have such a large group because we are A&M-Commerce. At Texas A&M University, College Station, the large of the group plan is a better premium you can get, because more people are in it. I am not part of enough to speak of the cost, but international student insurance plans are more individualized,” she said. Based on her statement, I think if international students belong to large groups, then the premium might be cheaper.

According to John Mark Jones, director of A&M-Commerce International Student Service & Scholars (ISSO), “It has always been required to have insurance for the international students,” Jones said. “In the past, it was a little bit different. Since the A&M system has gone with the mandatory enrollment in A&M system insurance, there has been a significant increase.”

Jones has been here at ISSS for 9 years. As a director, he has conversations about academic care plans and the A&M system. “When I have had discussions about increases, their explanation to me is because of the Affordable Care Act, basically what you call ‘Obama Care.’”

When the Affordable Care Act came into place that changed a lot of our insurance woks in the United States. And their response to me was is the part of the reasons there is a continuous increase is in relation to that new law that we have here in our country.

I think there are so many reasons for the increasing premiums, and there is no evidence that car accidents are a specific cause for increasing premiums. But, we need to think about the solutions rather than complaining about premiums. I have two ideas to change the situation.

First, students can come together with one voice to express their thoughts to the A&M system.

“Students need to let their concern known. That could be one way, then certainly you would get their attention and open up and create an opportunity to have a dialog in discussion about international student insurance premiums.”

I believe they will evaluate and reconsider about it.

Second, students should actively make use of their insurance plans. Many international students do not use their insurance. Some others don’t know how to use it. If you feel sick, students should go to hospital.

One of international students said, “This is school policy, so we don’t have a choice, but at least we should make the best use of it.”

A&M-Commerce Student Health Services office offers affordable health care to students. Currently enrolled students may visit here for free except for labs, x-rays, minor procedures, etc.

I paid only $369 during the fall of 2012, my second semester at A&M-Commerce. According to Jones, all the new and current students pay the same in the spring semester, because they all have same coverage period. But during the fall, current students start on September 1, because they have a previous insurance. New students have to start on August 1, because the international students get to school early. That’s a requirement. So, it is more expensive in the fall.