When Mike Lord’s wife checked her student account to pay her health insurance bill, he found out late last month that he would have to pay at least triple more each month or go without coverage.
As a small business owner, Lord counts on his wife’s health insurance plan, which she has through the University of Georgia as a graduate student.
He would now have to fork over $640 a month, which has left Lord unsure of what to do.
“If they knew that price was going to be [3.5] times higher, I wish they would’ve just told me, and I never would’ve signed up for it in the first place,” Lord told The Red & Black.
Graduate students with a qualified assistantship, such as Lord’s spouse, are required to enroll in university health insurance, according to UGA Human Resources. That is why Lord decided to switch to UGA’s plan in January.
His plan went from around $1,300 for January through July 2018 to around $4,400 for January through July 2019 — a 338 percent rate hike — which must be paid in full at the beginning of each semester. In month-to-month costs, his plan went from nearly $186 a month — cheaper than typical marketplace plans available on healthcare.gov — to almost $629 a month.
When it was time to renew the policy for the five-month semester, his wife logged on to pay for her health insurance plan, which isn’t affected by the rate increase, and saw that his total was much more than their budget allowed.
"This is not only just out of the blue, but we don’t have an extra $5,000 in our budget, particularly because one of us is a grad student,” Lord said.
The only choice he has for insurance is to enroll through the marketplace, Lord said. However, the open enrollment period is no longer open for 2018, unless he can prove a loss of coverage.
“Otherwise, I can’t register for insurance at all,” Lord said.
Lord decided to contact UGA and the University System of Georgia after seeing the insurance spike.
“Kind of what the university has done is worse, because they’re going to try to argue that it’s not a loss of coverage on one hand, but then they made it so unaffordable that essentially it is a loss of coverage,” Lord said.
The 350-percent rate hike affects all graduate students’ spouses and children who are on university health insurance under USG, not just at UGA, according to Annette Ogletree-McDougal, executive director of communications at Board of Regents at USG.
The rate was negotiated late last year with UnitedHealthcare Student Resources, an insurance company specializing in offering students’ health insurance, Ogletree-McDougal said.
The rates increased as a result of more spouses signing up for UGA health insurance.
"A rise in spouse claims increased the cost of the plan for all students regardless if a student has a spouse covered on the plan,” Ogletree-McDougal said.
All graduate students’ costs were affected by spouses’ costs. Dependents account for 7 percent of plan participants within USG, Ogletree-McDougal said.
“The insurance company — they’re in it obviously to just make money -— but the university could be a little bit more compassionate,” Lord said.
Negotiations with UHSR began in late 2017, according to Ogletree-McDougal.
USG negotiated the “best overall premium plan for covering its students,” Ogletree-McDougal said.
In its July notification sent to students, UGA Human Resources suggested spouses of graduate students enroll for health insurance through the marketplace or through employer plans.
The marketplace’s open enrollment period for 2018 ended in December 2017. The 2019 open enrollment period is from Nov. 1 to Dec. 15.
Lord said he does not plan to renew his UGA health insurance for the semester. He will look into his options on the marketplace but will only be able to apply for coverage if his situation is considered a loss of coverage.
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