Spring 2014 looks to bring more affordable options than ever in health care coverage—for in-state students and faculty, at least. Come Oct. 1, New Yorkers at Stony Brook may find a chance to start shopping for their own health insurance sooner rather than later.
Part of the new federal Affordable Care Act required states to open regulated health care exchange systems, or Health Insurance Exchanges, for uninsured residents.
Packages from third-party insurance providers are submitted through these exchanges, ranked into tiers based on each plan’s overall coverage and are priced accordingly before they are presented to shoppers looking to purchase individual insurance plans.
For a state like New York, well-known to have some of the most expensive premiums in the country, a health benefit exchange is a boon rather than a burden.
Already, the state exchange is set up with participating insurance providers promising rates at half the price of current individual insurance plans. Since state legislation makes it so all applicants are accepted regardless of their health and other identifying factors, premiums slashed in half are more affordable for most uninsured New Yorkers.
According to the New York State Department of Health, residents can enroll in the exchange Oct. 1, with coverage to begin the following January.
“New York’s health benefits exchange will offer the type of real competition that helps drive down health insurance costs for consumers and businesses,” Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a press release. “The opportunity to choose among affordable, quality health insurance options will mean improved health outcomes, stronger economic security and better peace of mind for New York families.”
So far, 17 companies have had their submitted rates approved for the new exchange.
According to a table of rates comparing provider plans by tier, premiums can range anywhere from MVP Health Care’s $153.45 catastrophic plan, to United Healthcare’s $913.99 monthly bill at the platinum level.
Aetna Life Insurance—the company that provides coverage for the Student Health Insurance Program (SHIP) at Stony Brook —offers packages ranging from $330.50 to $798.86 for coverage across the state.
But the numbers are still far better for domestic students enrolled with SHIP. Aetna’s SHIP covers students from the months of September to January at $840 for the Fall 2013 semester, at $168 a month. For Spring 2014, students under SHIP will be required to pay $1,140 for the months of January to August, at approximately $162 a month.
Even next to state exchange rates, SHIP premiums are arguably low enough for students at Stony Brook.
However, according to Angela Agnello, director of Marketing and Communications at Stony Brook University, unlike NYS health insurance for individuals, there are no signs of lower rates for SHIP.
“Costs were elevated this year when Aetna implemented changes mandated by the Affordable Care Act,” she said. “At the same time, additional fees and assessments were mandated under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.”
Even if SHIP premiums rise above those offered by the New York Health Insurance Exchange, there are still other factors to consider when purchasing insurance, she added.
Benefits packages vary between plans, and even more so between providers.
According to the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, all plans under state health exchanges are required to include ten “essential health benefits” at the very minimum –hospitalization, outpatient services, emergency services, maternity/newborn care, mental health and substance abuse treatment, prescription drugs, preventive care, rehabilitative services, outside lab tests and pediatric services. SHIP covers all ten, along with extra services like elective abortion, birth control coverage and dental injury services.
“Health Insurance Exchange coverage offers a different benefits package than SHIP, which may not be as comprehensive as the plan offered at Stony Brook University,” Agnello said. “Students need to be informed about their coverage and what they are purchasing if they decide to enroll in a health exchange.”