Northwestern mandates University health insurance coverage for international students

Amy Whyte, Reporter

Starting this school year, all international students at Northwestern are required to enroll in the University’s health insurance program, regardless of coverage in their home country.

The cost of the University’s student health care plan this year totals $2,842. The plan, which is provided by Aetna Student Health, was expanded this year to cover “just about everything,” said  Christopher Johnson, director of the Office of Risk Management. The new plan includes wellness care, vaccinations, birth control, unlimited mental health benefits and unlimited prescription benefits.

“If students have health insurance from their home countries, we’re not really sure what it covers and what it does not cover,” said Ravi Shankar, director of NU’s International Office. “There have been several instances where students have fallen sick or they’ve had a physical or mental crisis that those health insurances have not covered, and the student and parents are left with a considerable bill to pay.”

Insufficient home health insurance plans in the past have cost international students as much as $40,000 to $50,000 in medical bills, Johnson said. Because of this, the University does not want its students to be “stuck with” that financial burden, he said. 

Additionally, the plan lowers costs from last year’s NU health insurance package. Previously students have paid as much as $5,000 for prescriptions, which under the new plan are only a $10 to $20 co-pay, Johnson said.

“We feel that we have a certain responsibility to international students, and for that reason we are requiring them now to take part in the health plan,” Johnson said.

McCormick sophomore Shuyao Shi, a Chinese international student, said he thinks the new plan is too expensive, especially for students like himself who are already paying for health insurance at home.  Unable to waive NU’s insurance coverage, some international students end up paying for two health insurance plans simultaneously.

“The insurance itself is very good, and on one side I think it is very helpful for students,” Shi said. “But on the other side, you know it’s mandatory and double insurance is not very necessary. It would be better if international students had an option to choose if they want the insurance or not.”

Shankar said the implementation of mandated student health insurance is necessary because it ensures that international students are fully covered while they are at NU.

“We have a lot more control in terms of the purchase of Northwestern health insurance, and from a risk management perspective it makes perfect sense,” he said. “There are several universities that have mandatory health insurance, so this is not anything cutting-edge.”