Students question required insurance

All full-time undergraduate students are required to carry health insurance of some kind, but international students are specifically required to carry the TCU-offered plan, which the director of international student services says is difficult to understand. Although the university-offered insurance plan is not exclusive to international students, they in particular struggle to understand it, mostly because of the cultural components included in health services, said John Singleton, director of international student services.

“It’s more challenging for someone who isn’t used to manipulating U.S. systems,” Singleton said.

Another challenge, said Lizbeth Branch, student adviser of international student services, is that international students don’t have their parents to take care of health insurance issues for them.

“You’re not on an insurance plan with your parents,” sophomore interior design major Tunti Pereira said. “I didn’t have to worry about it at home.”

Understanding the language used in the brochures is the first step students must take to learn the benefits and limitations of their health insurance.

Marilyn Hallam, assistant to the director of health services, said people generally are not aware of the terminology used in health insurance brochures, such as “deductible,” which is a specific amount of covered medical expenses that must be paid out-of-pocket before the covered student can reap any benefits from his or her plan. For the university-offered plan, that specific amount is $250 per policy year.

In addition to the informational sessions provided by the health center during orientation, brochures that explain the benefits and limitations of the plan are readily available both in electronic and paper forms.

However, many students remain confused about the benefits and limitations of their insurance.

“There’s a lot of good things about our health care insurance,” said Laura Crawley, assistant dean of campus life. “But clarity is not one of them.”

During his first semester at TCU, senior biology major Nishant Maller, from India, visited the dentist Dr. Maziar Shabestari, PhD to get a root canal.

He said he had the impression his student insurance would provide coverage for it, but was surprised to learn the root canal would cost him more than $1,000 because the student plan only covers dental expenses related to the treatment of an injury.

Maller said he declined treatment and waited about six months before he could get treated at home.

“It wasn’t the best thing to do,” Maller said. “But it was the best thing financially.”

He said the treatment cost him about $100 in India with his family’s insurance.

Maller said this limitation in the plan is frustrating because the one option TCU offers to him and other international students does not cover routine, preventative and restorative dental care, and that is the benefit he needs most. Hallam said a health plan that does cover dental care would be extremely expensive. Students may, however, purchase a supplementary insurance plan, Hallam said.

“We should be given the option to look for health insurance outside and get something we can use according to our preferences if we have any special needs,” said Kaushal Amatya, a sophomore psychology major from Nepal.

Hallam said international students are not given the option of looking for an insurance plan besides the one offered through TCU because it allows them to have immediate coverage upon arriving in the U.S.

About 21 percent of non-international students choose to carry the university-offered plan because their families find it more affordable, Hallam said.

Singleton said a small number of international students waive the university-offered plan each semester under specific circumstances.

Crawley said she would encourage students having trouble with their insurance to call the insurance company with their questions.