Pinching Pennies: Student health insurance switching to BlueCross BlueShield

Beginning in the Fall 2013 semester, Western Carolina University, along with the University of North Carolina system campuses, will provide student health insurance through Student Blue from BlueCross and BlueShield of North Carolina (BCBSNC).

The awarding of the student health insurance contract to BCBSNC among the UNC campuses is a major change from Pearce & Pearce, the former contract holder for student health insurance.

According to a recent report from the Daily Tar Heel, other bids for the contract came from Pearce & Pearce Inc., the current student health insurance provider; United HealthCare Services Inc. and Aetna Inc.

According to the BCBSNC website, “BlueCross and BlueShield of North Carolina is a leader in delivering innovative health care products, services and information to help our customers improve their health and well-being. Our vision is to be a leader in improving the health care system in North Carolina,” having served North Carolina for over 75 years.

In an interview with the Daily Tar Heel, Brian Usischon, the UNC system’s associate vice president for human resources and university benefits officer, stated that BCBSNC has proposed a plan that includes a $1,290 annual premium, almost $130 less than this year’s $1,418 premium.

The final cost is still being negotiated, according to Usischon, who said in an interview with the Daily Tar Heel, “We’re still working on price – that’s the biggest piece.”

One piece of information to rejoice in for UNC students is the fact that BlueCross BlueShield also offered to place a cap on price increases for the next three years, according to Usischon. The increase in student premiums over the past three years has been a source of turmoil for many students across the state.

As far as benefits are concerned, Usischon said that the student benefits will remain relatively the same for the 40,000 undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in the health insurance plan system wide.

Along with benefits, the co-pay and deductibles students pay will not change. However, the cap on the amount of student health care spending will rise from $100,000 to $500,000 next year and will be unlimited by 2014-15, said Usischon in his interview with the Daily Tar Heel.

Usischon continued, saying that “. . . essentially, it’s the same design in terms of what benefits exist now.”

According to the Daily Tar Heel, BlueCross BlueShield must continue to meet the requirements of the Affordable Care Act, which requires every student attending a college or university to have health insurance coverage.

Usischon said that BlueCross BlueShield is also bringing new ideas to the table, such as a mobile application that allows students to complete their health insurance waiver more quickly, with students being notified almost immediately if their waiver is approved.

Of the 40,000 students enrolled in the university system’s health insurance plan, many will not notice any changes.

Yet, for those students who pinch pennies in an effort to get the most out of their dollar, the change to BCBSNC will probably signal a positive change in their semester spending, realized through the raised cap on student health care spending and the three year price increase cap proposed by BCBSNC.