Searle eyes new system of payment to expand care

Presidential candidates aren’t the only ones pushing universal health care this year.

Dr. Donald Misch, Searle Student Health Service’s new executive health director, envisions making a simplified and comprehensive health plan that will give universal access to all categories of Northwestern students, not just full-time undergraduates.

This idea follows a number of changes that have taken place at Searle in the last year, such as implementing a new appointment system and limiting health care services to students only.

Misch, who took over the position in July, said he would like to see the payment method at Searle overhauled. There are inconsistencies in the health care Searle can provide to students depending on their enrollment status. Although a full-time student receives most services at Searle for free, part-time students, visiting scholars and fellows all are given varying degrees of insurance coverage.

One way of remedying the problem, according to Misch, is to add a health care fee to all students’ tuitions. Students would pay varying rates depending on their status, but all would receive the same coverage.

“Many other colleges do this,” Misch said. “Although this would increase tuitions, the trade-off is that students would just have to show a WildCARD to get 99 percent of the services.”

Instituting a complete overhaul of how Searle is funded is not without obstacles, Misch said. First, it would require a partnership between Searle and Risk Management, the student health-insurance provider. In addition, a proposal must be submitted to the Office of Student Affairs by November and the feasibility of the plan has to be studied.

Although this proposal still is only an idea, Misch said he would like to see the change as soon as next year.

Because there are no monetary figures yet for Misch’s idea of a health-related tuition increase, William Banis, vice president for student affairs, said he was unable to comment on the possibility of a flat insurance rate for all students.

Misch has other plans for long-term changes. He is working to make the building on Emerson Street a top university candidate for an expansion, and although there are no plans to build, he said it will be a primary goal of his tenure.

“In surveys we distribute, students say there isn’t sufficient privacy at the front of Searle,” Misch said. “We agree with them, but there simply isn’t enough space to remedy it.”

In addition, the previous walk-in system was updated Spring Quarter to more efficiently serve students. Now all students are required to make an appointment before heading to Searle, unless it is an emergency.

“Last year when it was walk-in, 100 people would come at the same time, often during the lunch hour,” Misch said. “Now fewer students have to wait to see someone.”

Searle has limited its services to students over the past year in accordance with federal statutes. To avoid the cost of several administrative hurdles, Student Affairs, which oversees Searle, has decided not to update its policies to comply with the new Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. Consequently, Searle remains under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 and is no longer permitted to treat non-students.

“The provisions of HIPAA allow student health information to remain under FERPA,” Banis said. “(Searle’s) mission is to serve students, period. It’s not a community service.”

But even though the university must comply with these regulations, Banis said faculty and staff will not be left without the option of on-campus flu inoculations this fall. Human Resources will bring in a provider that is HIPAA compliant to provide flu shots to non-students, he added.