When Briana Mercado found out her student health insurance plan would increase by nearly $700 this academic year, she was taken aback.
The annual price of the University of Maryland Student Health Insurance Plan for the 2022-23 academic year has increased from $1,694 to $2,334. The jump of approximately 38% marks the largest increase in the costs of SHIP coverage at this university in a decade.
Mercado, a biochemistry major, relies on this university’s student health insurance plan because the university doesn’t accept her family’s insurance plan. This year’s rising costs redefined the way Mercado planned its finances for the fall semester — forcing it to choose between taking extra shifts, finding a better-paying job, or piling the extra cost onto its employees. other student loans.
Every undergraduate student at this university enrolled in at least six credits and every full-time graduate student must have health insurance to maintain attendance. Students discovered this year’s cost increases in June 2022 without notice.
“To see such a drastic increase without any student input was just shocking. I felt like we weren’t really being listened to,” Mercado said. “It’s more affordable for college, but not more affordable for the students who attend it.”
This university switched from Blue Cross Blue Shield to Aetna as the main provider of student insurance after a competitive bid from different providers earlier this year, according to university president Darryll Pines. The change was “the best choice” for this university and the students who depend on it for insurance coverage, Pines said.
“It’s unfortunate that the cost was a bit more than we would have liked, but it was all done honestly and done well,” Pines said. “The general cost of health care has gone up for all American citizens across the country, and of course in the state of Maryland, so I don’t think we’re immune to that.”
The average health insurance premium for a single person has risen 18% since 2017, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit that focuses on national health issues.
More than 4,600 students currently rely on SHIP coverage to continue their studies at this university – a high enrollment figure for 10 years. Many students at this university who rely on SHIP, like Mercado, need it because their families do not have health insurance approved by this university.
For many, a few hundred extra dollars can mean the difference in their ability to continue their studies at this university, said Ana Baide, a young computer science student who relies on SHIP because of her international student status.
“My dad was like, ‘Damn, we already have to get that amount for your tuition, and you’re telling me that’s almost $700 more?'” Baide said.
Students have the option of paying their health insurance balance by semester or in installments to ease the burden of rising plan costs, University Health Center Director Spyridon Marinopoulos said in a statement.
But the university’s expectation that any of its students who rely on SHIP can sustain such an increase — with a payment plan or not — is unrealistic, said sophomore computer science student Sash Lamba.
“If I had to use one word…it would be exploitation,” he said. “
The burden of SHIP price increases falls disproportionately on that university’s most vulnerable students, including international students such as Baide and Lamba. These students don’t have options like staying on a family health insurance plan or entering the U.S. insurance market on their own, Lamba said.
“It’s another policy that’s going to favor people who aren’t cash strapped, who are just more privileged,” Lamba said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if that $700 was just…enough to make someone drop out of a semester or drop out of college.”
As an international student, Lamba has no choice but to purchase SHIP coverage, regardless of the cost, or discontinue his studies due to lack of alternatives.
The lack of help for students who don’t have reliable family insurance plans, coupled with this year’s price hike, is “ridiculous,” Baide said. When she transferred to that university and could no longer rely on her insurance plan from her home country of Honduras, Baide tried to find coverage alternatives suitable for international students. But every time she presented a different plan to that university’s health center, they denied it, she said.
Lamba encountered similar problems finding coverage alternatives to SHIP. The bureaucracy at the health center and the lack of clarity about how to opt for a different insurance plan made the process of battling this year’s SHIP increases even more frustrating, Lamba said.
Being trapped in this university’s student health insurance plan signals to Lamba how vulnerable people who must rely on SHIP are the “cash cows” of this university.
“A big part of why this happened is just sheer ignorance on the part of the university and…this attitude where, ‘We can charge whatever we want, with no notification, with nothing and we know you have to pay for it,'” Lamba said.