When the Sticker Price is Only the Beginning

You’d have to be living on a very remote island with a massive digital deadzone to be surprised upon hearing that higher education is expensive, and it’s getting more expensive with each year. I follow higher education issues closely because of my work, but I am also a higher education consumer. As the parent of a child whom I assured should evaluate colleges by “fit” and not “fee,” I comforted myself into believing that I knew how to play the college costs game. Today, reader, I was humbled. More precisely, I was initiated into the new world of college health service fees. My daughter is beginning her second year at a private liberal arts college in Massachusetts, which has required health insurance of all college students since 1989. A reasonable and progressive principle, I believed, and we easily filed our waiver last year with the school to indicate our full health care coverage through our work in another state.

But wait: We learned today that colleges are legally allowed to deny those waivers, even if all the requirements of health care coverage are satisfied. Way down the screen at point 17, it reads:

 17. Is a school required to grant a waiver request if a student’s alternative health plan meets the conditions for a waiver? No. Schools may require students to enroll in the school-sponsored SHP in order to enroll at the institution.

This means paying an additional $1,066 for a 15 week semester providing a campus clinic with part-time hours while also being required to pay for family coverage at home. With the same policy as last year, the coverage was deemed no longer acceptable by the college. Hmmm. Sounds to me like a $2,100 increase in tuition. Bryan Liang, a professor and executive director of the Institute of Health Law Studies at California Western School of Law, and a professor of anesthesiology and co-director of the San Diego Center for Patient Safety at the University of California at San Diego School of Medicine, has been following these kinds of arbitrary fees, noting that they are on average neither market-based nor health-focused in their pricing or services. The school determines whether the student must buy the plan, not an independent evaluator. If you refuse, don’t bother to try and register.

Health care costs are high and getting higher. So too are college tuition costs. Now we have a perfect storm of two unsustainable pricing structures conspiring together.

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