International students need insurance

The U.S. health care system can be bewildering to foreign students.

Lindsay Guentzel

When graduate and international student Avigya Karki was injured during a soccer game, he had to be transported to the University Medical Center.

“The ambulance ride was really expensive,” he said. “If I had known that, I would have asked a friend to give me a ride.”

Karki said his insurance, which is provided by the University, covered some costs, but he had to cover some out-of-pocket.

Dr. Kay Thomas, the director of the University’s International Student and Scholar Services, said some students have a hard time understanding health care in the United States.

“It’s almost unimaginable for students from some countries to understand the cost of health care,” she said.

The University requires that all international students and scholars have health insurance for themselves and their dependents during their time in the United States.

Duncan Okello, the supervisor of the graduate and student insurance office, said it’s required so students and their families are protected while at the University.

They don’t have to purchase the Student Health Benefit Plan offered by the University if they receive health insurance from a U.S.-based employer or are covered by the Graduate Assistant Health Insurance Plan, he said.

Because they are in the United States on temporary, nonimmigrant visas, they are not eligible for U.S. government programs like Medical Assistance and Medicaid, he said.

Upon entering the country, international students, scholars and their dependents must have their travel documents verified at the International Student and Scholar Students, he said.

After their initial visit to Boynton Health Service, where they’re screened for tuberculosis, they’re placed in the University’s system and can begin receiving benefits, he said.

Okello said international students must be full-time students to be eligible for the plan; however, non-international students only need six or more credits to be eligible.

This year, a new benefit was added to the plan, providing a $10,000 accidental death benefit for international students and scholars.

In the event an international student dies, part of the plan’s coverage guarantees the student’s remains are sent to his or her home country, Okello said.

Another element of the plan – the medical evacuation coverage – sends home students who are too ill to attend the University, usually with a doctor or nurse.

“I consider that one of the biggest values of the insurance plan,” Okello said.

Because international students and scholars come to the University at different times during the year, coverage is guaranteed at the time of their arrival, he said.

Instead of paying a yearly rate, they pay a monthly rate, he said.

Thomas said some students have expressed concern that the plan costs too much money.

“It’s a little on the expensive side, but it covers so much,” she said. “Students don’t often realize what a good deal they have.”

The Student Health Benefit Plan ranges from $782 per year for one student to $1,140 per year for a spouse and two or more children. The plan costs the same for both U.S. citizens and international students.

Graduate and international student Chuck Wang said the plan could offer more.

“I think it is not bad, but it is not good enough,” Wang said.

The University could offer international students more options, like dental insurance, he said.

“The international students could have the right to select the levels of cost by their need,” he said.

Thomas said she feels the plan is comprehensive.

“It’s excellent,” she said. “It’s probably the best plan in the country.”

Karki said while he likes the health coverage he gets, he also wishes it included dental and better coverage at other medical facilities.

The plan should have been explained in better detail when he came to the University, he said.

“There is a huge book to read through,” he said. “I wish the main points were more clear.”