Watkins Hurricanes

Because of the Student Health Fee, which is built into student fees managed by Student Senate, there is no charge for general office visits to Watkins Health Services. Watkins is able to work out payment plans for other more specific services, such as counseling.

Students purchasing healthcare through a student plan provided by the Kansas Board of Regents could see a significant increase in premiums for the 2019-20 school year.

Healthcare premiums increased by 114% for students who voluntarily opt into the KBOR plan, provided through United Healthcare. This includes graduate students without an appointment through the University and undergraduate students.

“[T]his was a tough decision for the board,” said KBOR Director of Communications Matt Keith. “Nobody wants to raise the rates, but they tried to get a lot of input from students and from the campuses.”

The increase comes as United saw a significant rise in claims made through the insurance, which is subsidized and modeled after the Affordable Care Act with unlimited benefits. Due to this, United had to increase premiums somewhere within the plan, said Diana Malott, interim director of Watkins Health Services.

“An insurance company is in business, and if they’re losing money at the rate that United was over this past year, they’re not going to continue in the business,” Malott said. “So something has to happen one way or the other.”

KBOR adopted the plan after receiving recommendations — all in agreement for the plan — from the Student Insurance Advisory Committee and the Students' Advisory Committee, made up of representatives from all six KBOR universities. 

The plan was agreed upon as it allowed for much smaller increases for students required to purchase the health insurance, including graduate teaching assistants, graduate research assistants, international students and students in health-based academic programs, such as the pharmacy school. The 5,000 students who fell into these risk pools saw an increase of around only 4%, Keith said.

Keith said the idea behind the plan was that many undergraduate students have other options available to them, such as staying on their parents’ health insurance.

“That’s not the case for every student, but I think the board was hopeful that some of them might have more access to that than the graduate students who might not because they, in a lot of cases, might be too old to get back on their parents’ health insurance plan,” Keith said.

However, graduate students with fellowships or other forms of funding outside of the University are not eligible for the lower priced healthcare plan.

“In particular, it affects our highest performing graduate students,” said Audrey Lamb, interim dean of the Office of Graduate Studies. “So, students who have gone out and earned their own fellowships now are no longer part of the ‘three G’ pool, and so their healthcare goes from the smaller cost and subsidized set to the higher cost with no subsidy.”

Because the plan was approved by KBOR, the price is set for the 2019-20 school year. However, the University’s Student Insurance Advisory Committee is discussing ways to make students aware of any changes with their insurance quickly and address the increase in a productive way for students.

“You have to know what options are before you can make a decision, and so I think that’s one of the main goals, at least that I have, both to discuss with the advisory board as a whole and what are the best ways to get that information disseminated to graduate students,” said Aaron Rudeen, a graduate student on the committee.

Additionally, Malott said students can receive free or reduced services at Watkins Health Center. Because of the Student Health Fee built into student fees by Student Senate each year, there is no charge for general office visits, and Watkins is able to work out payment plans for other more specific services, such as counseling.

“Students never have to have money in their pocket when they come and see us,” Malott said. “We want to make sure that we’re taking care of them. So there’s a lot that a student can get here and never have to pay for.”