NU secures modest increase in student premium as markets prepare for rate hikes


Katie Pach/Daily Senior Staffer

Searle Hall, home to the University Health Service. Northwestern will continue its partnership with Aetna as insurance markets prepare for expected premium hikes this fall.

Alan Perez, Assistant Campus Editor

Northwestern has renewed its contract with Aetna, securing a modest premium increase as insurers prepare to charge more in comparable markets after the repeal of the individual mandate.

The University’s student health insurance premium will rise 2.4 percent to a baseline of $3,950, though out-of-network deductibles and the out-of-pocket maximum will increase to allow for a moderate rise. Enrollment for the plan will begin next month, with the changes going into effect in August. Assistant vice president for risk management Luke Figora said the decision to renew the contract was made in March.

Northwestern chose Aetna because of its familiarity with the University environment, comprehensive mental health coverage and administrative ease, Figora said.

“One thing that is important to us is that we’re not just picking an insurance company; we’re picking an insurance company that understands student health insurance and the unique aspect of a place like Northwestern,” said Figora, who led the review process of comparing design plans submitted by providers. “We found that Aetna was the highest quality from that perspective.”

The renewal comes just months after Congress repealed the individual insurance mandate, a key provision of the 2010 Affordable Care Act that sought to level premium costs. Some providers have already indicated they will charge higher premiums as they file increase requests in preparation for the ACA enrollment period in the fall.

Figora said the University had received calls from parents who were concerned about volatility in insurance markets, but added that the decision to continue the Aetna partnership has eased these worries. NU secured a relatively reasonable rate as peer institutions struggle to land humble increases, he said.

Still, some graduate students have raised concerns about the plan, saying it doesn’t provide adequate coverage.

Second-year graduate student Zach Angulo, a spokesman for NU Graduate Workers — an organization formed in the wake of 2016 graduate student unionization efforts — said the referral process for both the required and add-on plans are “cumbersome,” adding that the optional dental and eye plans are not “worth the price tag.”

“There’s some students who believe that the referral process is a barrier to finding coverage that they need sooner than they actually receive it,” he said. “On the other hand, these students find that the referral process is limited in the range of options that are provided after they’re already referred … We want adequate coverage that accounts for the diverse experiences of graduate students at Northwestern.”

Angulo added that students are concerned about mental health coverage, though vice president for student affairs Patricia Telles-Irvin, who was involved in the final decision, said that coverage was a priority of the review committee.

“We want to be able to make sure that the students who purchase the insurance get the best care that they can,” she said.

The concerns with health insurance are part of a broader list that graduate students hope to address through unionization efforts. Angulo said NUGW is gathering survey data to create a health care platform to present to the University.

Northwestern has taken notice of their worries, as Figora said his office hosted a town hall in April to discuss the new insurance plan. But with few changes ultimately made, Angulo said issues remain.

“I found the forum pretty informative, but I think that the forum was insufficient to address some of the substantial graduate concerns with the health care plan,” he said. “Being informed is one thing, but receiving necessary coverage for the health care problems we have is another.”

This story was updated at 2:30 p.m. to clarify Zach Angulo’s comments on the cost of optional student health insurance plans.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @_perezalan_