Changes to student health insurance include premium hike, prescription drug benefits


Daily file photo by Katie Pach

Searle Hall, home to University Health Service. Northwestern Student Insurance Office announced changes last week to the student health insurance plan for the upcoming year.

James Pollard, Campus Editor

Students on the Northwestern University Student Health Insurance Plan can expect to see a 3 percent hike to the annual premium and changes to certain prescription drug benefits, according to an email sent last week from the Northwestern Student Insurance office.

The annual premium will increase from $4,050 to $4,170, the email said. The deductible and out-of-pocket maximum will not change, nor will pharmacy or office visit copayments and the mental health co-insurance payment cap.

“As health care costs continue to increase across the country, so does the cost of providing the NU-SHIP,” the email said. “For this renewal, we attempted to keep premium increases as low as possible while also enacting plan changes that would be the least disruptive to the majority of students on the plan.”

Some brand name drugs will no longer be covered, the email said, and will be replaced with a generic clinical equivalent. Other drugs will change tiers, resulting in a higher copay.

Medications for depression, like Desvenlafaxine ER and Bupropion Tab 450MG XL, have both moved from tiers one to three, meaning their co-payment has risen from $10 to $60. The plan no longer covers these other medications for depression: Cymbalta, Fetzima and Venlafaxine Tab 37.5 ER.

Freestyle, a treatment for diabetes, has gone from a $60 co-pay to being completely uncovered. Additionally, several treatments for asthma have either seen their co-pays hiked or status moved to uncovered.

Less than 3 percent of students on the plan have a prescription impacted by the change, University spokesperson Bob Rowley said in an email to The Daily. The changes, he said, help keep the premium increase at more reasonable levels for students.

Aetna, Northwestern’s health insurance provider, maintains an appeals process for students and providers concerned about the generic alternatives for clinical reasons, Rowley added.

“Northwestern tries to negotiate the best possible health insurance plan on behalf of students, balancing the premium with the coverage,” Rowley said in the email.

In light of the uncertainty surrounding a return to campus and travel restrictions, the Northwestern Student Insurance Office plans to offer open enrollment, the email said.

Students with non-Illinois HMO or Medicaid plans will not be required to enroll until they return to campus, the email said, nor will international students studying remotely in their home country.
“We are working with Aetna to allow some flexibility during the open enrollment process for students who may be impacted by unique circumstances,” the email said.

On July 1, the email said letters outlining the changes will be sent to students currently on the NU-SHIP. One month later, letters will be sent to all students impacted by these changes, and their medical providers, the email added.

Erique Zhang, a communications Ph.D student, said that while the premiums rise every year, the problematic aspect of the changes is its impact on a “very long list” of prescriptions.

“It’s a little ridiculous that Northwestern is claiming to care about students’ mental health,” Zhang said. “But then this list of prescriptions includes a lot of antidepressants and a lot of medications that are for mental health issues or for chronic health conditions.”

Yunkyo Kim contributed reporting.

A previous version of this story misspelled Erique Zhang’s name. The story has been updated to reflect the proper spelling. The Daily regrets this error.

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Twitter: @pamesjollard

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