According to Kailyn Soldat, director of UPs SHC, the demand for services has grown exponentially.
Years ago, students would just go to the Student Health Center when they had a cold or scraped their knee or maybe sprained their ankle, so it was pretty simple care, Soldat said. We now act as a real primary care for many students.
To address rising operating costs, SHC will begin accepting most major insurance plans as a form of payment for medical services beginning in January. Mental health services, which are funded by the $120 wellness fee students pay each semester, will continue to be free.
According to Tamara Herdener, assistant vice president for student development and dean of students, the income generated from the insurance payments will be directed from the UP general fund and will be used to cover some of the Health Center’s expenses.
We hope to bring in about $150,000 in revenue in one year, Herdener said. That [the revenue] it could cover the supplies, it could cover the linens, you know we have people at the front desk, just the rising costs of the health center.
SHC will outsource its billing to Efficient Medical Billing Services, a third party company. According to Herdener, it’s cheaper to outsource collections than to manage them in-house.
Prior to implementing this billing change, the center relied on a combination of student health insurance and individual fees for tangible items such as lab testing, medications or procedures to support its operating costs.
We didn’t have the ability to collect insurance, so [the cost of services] would be billed directly to the student, Soldat said.
Now, Herdener and Soldat are optimistic that accepting existing student insurance will allow SHC to maintain full operational capacity and maintain its current range of services.
All of our students on campus have insurance, Soldat said. Unfortunately, providing health care is really expensive. By changing our model to one that actually works with insurance companies, we will be able to continue to provide comprehensive primary care services on campus versus potentially pulling back what they were able to offer.
The sustainability of the new billing process was investigated by Soldat and Herdener through an evaluation of successful billing models used by health centers at other universities.
Kailyn [Soldat] went to the University of the Pacific that has a really robust and really well-run insurance billing program at their health center, Herdener said. I [she] visited some other universities, Oregon State University, University of Oregon, and even some Catholic and small schools around the country.
Despite the change in billing policy, Herdener reiterates that the services offered and the standard of care at SHC will not be adversely affected.
I want to reassure them [students] that they will have continued access to excellent primary care, Herdener said. I am truly grateful to our staff at the Student Health Center for their work with students.
Although SHC has successfully contracted with many major insurance companies, including United Healthcare, Providence, and Cigna, there are several major insurance providers that SHC cannot accept.
Kaiser will not contract with us, said Herdener. We tried so hard and we tried for months. And it’s not uncommon for Kaiser to not contract with small clinics like ours because they want people to come to their clinic.
Students whose health insurance is out of network can still be seen at SHC and will be billed for the full cost of the visit. This bill can be sent to the student insurance company for possible reimbursement.
If the cost of service at SHC is too high, SHC can help the student find more affordable care with an in-house off-campus network.
The medical bill is really complex, Soldat said in an email to The Beacon. Insurance companies decide how much they will pay clinics for services and how much the student will be responsible for. Two students receiving the same services at SHC may end up paying different amounts depending on their insurance plan.
Soldat acknowledges that this change may cause financial concerns within the UP community. However, she is unwavering in her belief that this transition is in the best interest of SHC and the students.
In the long term, that will mean more robust, comprehensive services will continue to be available to students, Soldat said in an email to The Beacon. As long as we are in network with your insurance company, we will almost certainly be the cheapest option for community care.
If students have any questions regarding the billing change, they can visit the Student Health Center FAQ for more information. Soldat also asks any students who are afraid to call SHC with any questions they may have.
We don’t want students to avoid seeking care because they’re worried about the cost, Soldat said. We’re here to support them and help them find the best healthcare option for them, and that includes price transparency.
Students who wish to maintain confidentiality regarding the services they receive at SHC must submit a confidential communication request to their insurance company. This request can take up to 30 days to process, so students are encouraged to submit it as soon as possible
Soldat emphasizes that SHC is a safe place for all students, where student privacy is one of the most important priorities. Free services such as sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy testing, which will continue to be provided with the utmost discretion.
We [the SHC staff] genuinely care about students. We all work, Soldat said. That’s why we’re here. And so we only want safe, accessible resources for them.
Herdener believes that while there will be a change in SHC’s billing process, the level of value it provides to students remains unchanged.
I really, really encourage students to use the health center because it’s just so accessible, Herdener said. They are very caring and loving people. And it’s just a way to keep our students healthy and safe.
Julianna Pedone is a reporter for The Beacon. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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