UMass health plan riles students

By Kay Lazar
Globe Staff / June 28, 2011

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Student leaders at the University of Massachusetts’ Amherst campus say changes in the students’ health insurance plan will unfairly hit hardest on women, low-income students, and those with mental illnesses.

The changes, set to take effect in August, will require students to pay 15 percent of the total bill for care not received at the campus health center.

Under the new plan, students who need more than four mental health visits per year or many gynecological and obstetrics services that are not offered at the campus health care facility will be required to go to off-campus providers, and will be assessed co-insurance charges.

Students will also be required to pay 15 percent of hospital bills, X-rays, and other tests not offered on campus.

Rachel Bolus, a 30-year-old graduate student and teaching assistant who is expecting her first child Sept. 9, said the new charges will be tough to manage on the combined $33,000 annual income she and her husband, also a grad student, make.

“The charges are a good chunk of what we make, each year,’’ Bolus said.

Starting in August, Bolus said, she will have to visit her obstetrician once a week and will be required to pay 15 percent of the bill for each of those visits.

“Family is just as important to me as my career,’’ said Bolus, an aspiring biology professor.

“It’s issues like this that contribute to the gender gap in academia.’’

The new plan will cap out-of-pocket expenses for students at no more than $5,000 per year.

UMass spokesman Daniel Fitzgibbons said soaring health care costs required the university to make some tough choices.

“If we continued our services at the level that we were providing in the past year, the [monthly] insurance premiums for students would have gone up 30 percent,’’ he said.

“Instead, they went up 17 percent and we added the [15 percent] co-insurance and increased deductibles.’’ he said. “We tried to mitigate the impact as much as possible.’’

About 5,700 students, roughly a quarter of the student body, were enrolled in the health plan last year, a number that is expected to decrease now that the federal health insurance law allows young adults to stay on parents’ plans until age 26.

Kay Lazar can be reached at