This year, the University of Richmond changed its healthcare plan for international students from Aetna to UnitedHealthcare due to a significant rise in the cost for the Aetna plan, said Keesha Trim, director of risk management.

A group of UR staff administrators decided during the annual audit to look at other options after the news of the price increase. 

“For the 19-20 academic year, Aetna was wanting to almost double their premium amount so we decided to look at other options," Trim said, "and we were able to find coverage with UnitedHealthcare that would still be an increase, but it wasn't going to be as much of an increase as staying with Aetna would've been."

This year, the annual United Healthcare student health insurance plan costs $2,957. According to Trim, due to a month-long gap between the end date of the former plan and start date of the new plan, some returning students for this year only are on a 13-month plan from United Healthcare and pay $3,199 instead. Last year, the cost for the Aetna plan was $2,340.

Generally, the coverage for doctor's appointments, tests and services is the same or very similar between the two plans. Trim said that both Aetna and UnitedHealthcare had similar networks of doctors in the Richmond area. 

However, there are differences in coverage for some specific medications that have caused issues for a few students, Trim said. 

“We try to keep the basics of the plan the same: the amount of the deductible, the amount of co-insurance which is the amount that the insurance policy pays versus what the student has to pay,” Trim said. 

Rick Mayes, professor of public policy and co-chair of the healthcare studies program, said that the most basic and necessary components of insurance were hospital coverage, physician coverage and pharmaceuticals. 

Mayes also stressed the importance of mental health care coverage for students.

“I would almost put that up there as another thing you want to really make sure you have coverage for because college is stressful,” Mayes said. “If they have a mental illness or a mental disorder that’s temporary, the first time they often have it is in college.”

Mayes said that dental and optical were two costs that were often uncovered and had to be paid out of pocket.

“I’ve heard anecdotally — I don’t know if it’s true — that some students don't have dental coverage or international students that don't have good dental coverage will wait until they go home," Mayes said. "They'll go to Mexico, they'll go to someplace else to get basic dental coverage because you know a basic dental procedure here that's not covered by insurance can cost you a thousand dollars. And for a lot of people, students, who has a thousand dollars lying around?”

He also brought up the challenges many international students face, such as how students from countries like the United Kingdom and Australia have national healthcare systems and do not have to think about healthcare until they move to the U.S. to study. 

Trim said that every international student must get the school-provided healthcare plan.

Mayes said that family plans in the U.S. cost an average of $20,000 and an individual policy could cost $5,000 to $6,000, not counting copays and deductibles. He said most plans for college students likely cost about $3,000.

“The other thing is that most kids here I would assume, most U.S. students are on their parents' plan, so they're not buying policies," Mayes said. "So internationals are the ones who are feeling it, because their plan from home does not carry over."

Senior Bilal Hindi, an international student from Lebanon, said that although he had not used the new healthcare plan yet, he hoped he would not have to, mostly because of expensive copay bills from previous experiences. 

"For example, my foot has been hurting for the past two months," Hindi said, "and I don't want to go to the doctor. I'd rather do it back home, because it's much cheaper. Here, I would have to pay everything I have in my bank account." 

Hindi said other international students viewed going to the doctor in the U.S. similarly.

"I think all international students agree that even though we have the health insurance plan for school, nobody wants to go to the doctor's or we try our best not to," Hindi said. "Because most of us are on scholarships or some sort of aid, even just the copay is a big dent in our finances, so we try to stay away from that."

Contact news writer Eileen Pomeroy at eileen.pomeroy@richmond.edu.