Random health insurance audits catch errors

The University performs random insurance checks on up to 15 percent of the student population.

by Tara Bannow

It started with an e-mail telling senior Wade Plafcan he was being audited for insurance by the University of Minnesota. Following three stressful weeks of phone calls to One Stop and his insurance company, his student account was loaded with hundreds of dollars in erroneous fees. âÄúIt was really frustrating having to deal with school and having this on top of everything else,âÄù the ecology, evolution and behavior major said. At the outset of each semester, the University performs random insurance checks on up to 15 percent of the student population. This semesterâÄôs audits will begin within the next few weeks. The Board of Regents initiated a mandatory insurance policy at the University in the mid-1970s. Out of several thousand students who were audited last semester, about 400 students were charged a nonrefundable fee of $907 for one semester of the UniversityâÄôs Student Health Benefit Plan because they didnâÄôt have insurance, Susann Jackson, director of student health benefits, said. In the past, up to 600 students have been charged, she said. Cases like PlafcanâÄôs âÄî which happened last semester âÄî are the exception, not the norm, Jackson said. When audited, students must send a certificate of coverage from their insurance company. TheyâÄôre given about three weeks to respond, at which point theyâÄôre charged for the UniversityâÄôs plan. Plafcan, who is covered under his dadâÄôs Blue Cross Blue Shield plan, said the company initially sent the wrong letter. His calls to the University were bounced from person to person, he said; he worried about getting a hold placed on his student account. Eventually, Plafcan drove to campus from his home in St. Cloud during winter break to sort out the issue in person. The number of students audited varies depending on the amount of time and money that goes into the process each semester, Jackson said. âÄúIâÄôm sure that if I hired extra staff, I could probably find thousands each semester,âÄù she said. âÄúI know I could.âÄù If students are caught during a mid-semester audit, their financial aid wonâÄôt cover the cost of the health insurance plan, Jackson said. However, if they sign up for the plan when they register for classes, the cost is included in their aid. âÄúThatâÄôs really important, because then this becomes a real burden for the student,âÄù Jackson said. Nearly 15 percent of students on the UniversityâÄôs Twin Cities campus are uninsured, according to the latest survey performed by Boynton Health Service in 2007. Before students are permitted to register for classes, theyâÄôre prompted to either sign up for the UniversityâÄôs policy or provide information about their private plan. Many students slip through the cracks by typing fake insurance information, said Dave Golden, BoyntonâÄôs director of public health and communications. BoyntonâÄôs 2009 College Health Survey of nine Minnesota colleges and universities found an overall uninsured rate of 16.5 percent. Among that group, the highest number of uninsured students were 25 to 29 years old at 28.4 percent. At the national level, 18- to 24-year-olds report the highest uninsured rates: 28.9 percent, according to a 2009 report by the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control. In both state and national surveys, young men were more likely than women of the same age to go without coverage. Having mandatory insurance makes sense on a college campus as the risk pool among students is low, allowing for a policy thatâÄôs cheaper and that offers more coverage than private plans, Golden said. ItâÄôs vital that students have insurance, as complications from being uninsured are the most common reason students drop out of school, Jackson said. Regardless, she said, âÄústudents just want to save the money and donâÄôt want to pay for health insurance.âÄù