Would you buy car insurance that only covered you in one state? What about a life insurance policy that only paid your family if you died in Nevada? These are ridiculous questions because no one would ever knowingly buy coverage of any kind that operated in such a small area relative to the entire country. What about health insurance? That would be even more ridiculous, having a health plan that only covered you in one state. What about one county? You would have to be an idiot to buy health insurance with coverage limitations that you could make out with binoculars from the top of a large hill.
In that case, I’m an idiot. Barring emergencies, I only have health coverage in one particular county in one particular state within the United States. Who did I actually pay money to for this foolishness? The same people your student loans pay. Thank you, UR. That’s right. One of the institutions at the forefront of medical research sold me a health plan whose utility is on par with that of a 1981 Toyota Tercel with no motor. How this happened requires some explanation:

We all pay a $600 mandatory health fee each year to cover visits to University Health Services and the University Counseling Center. You pay this regardless of whether or not you have health insurance. However, if you don’t tell the school that you already have health insurance, you get to pay a $1,128 ‘insurance fee,” which is automatically added on to your tuition bill each semester you get to buy health insurance without ever talking to an insurance agent. Only in America! This is because it is mandatory for all full-time students to have health insurance, which amounts to the school having the ability to charge you without you necessarily knowing it.

There are two arguments one could make for this policy. First: It is better to have coverage and not need it than to need it and not have it. Second: Dude, the people who don’t have the volition to complete a 10-minute Internet form to avoid being charged $1,000 are most likely bums who deserve what they get. Fair enough; slippery, but fair.
For me, strike two was being told over winter break that my nonemergency visit to an out-of-state physician would not be covered because it was not within Monroe County. This came as quite a surprise (I mean, cellphone plans don’t even have roaming charges anymore). I knew that I had looked over the policy summary on the school’s Web site during the summer. How could I have missed such a vital aspect of the plan? The short answer is that the University makes no effort to make this clear. Not only that, but the information is presented in such a way that makes it really easy to miss.

There is a summary on the UHS Web site entitled ‘BCBS Summary of Benefits.” Within this summary are links for a ‘BCBS Summary of Benefits” in PDF and Word file formats. Same title, same document, right? Wrong. I thought these were ‘printer-friendly versions” of the same information. If you thought that and clicked on either of the links, you suspicions would probably be confirmed because you are presented with a document that initially appears to contain the same information laid out in the same manner as the UHS ‘BCBS Summary of Benefits.” Then, you would probably do what I did and exit the PDF or Word version. However, if I had read to the bottom of the second page, I would have discovered that these two similar documents differed in a very important way: the University’s ‘BCBS Summary of Benefits” mentions nothing about the service area being limited to Monroe County, the other ‘Summary of Benefits” does.

Now, I readily take full responsibility for my mistake. I should have read the materials provided more closely. But that does not preclude the possibility that the University’s practices in this matter are misleading. And hell yeah, I’ll be the one to blow that whistle.
It is also true that a $1,128 health plan for a one-year term is pretty inexpensive. But there’s a reason that ’81 Tercel is inexpensive too.

Even if UR is only going to offer some shoddy, econo-class health plan, do us a favor and perhaps just mention under the summary of benefits on the UHS Web site that we should not expect jack from you in 99.9 percent of the country unless we’re about to die. The lesson to be learned: Just because you’re paying some school $50,000 a year and will be in debt for the next 20 years of your life as a result, doesn’t mean that it’s still not going to try to screw you.

This is part one of a two part series

Sondey is a member of
the class of 2009.

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