Health plan pricier under Obamacare

Student health insurance offers more mandated benefits

UW-Eau Claire students will pay about $400 more this year for student health insurance after a local insurer adjusted the plan to meet standards laid out in the Affordable Care Act.

Students ages 25 and under pay about $1,300 for insurance that runs through Aug. 30 — up from an almost $900 annual plan last year.

Donald Southard Sr. of Southard Insurance Agency in Eau Claire handles student insurance accounts. He was sitting at a table near the Davies Center doors Tuesday, shrugging off cold air drafting through the front doors and answering questions about student coverage.

This year’s package is pricier because the Affordable Care Act, which went into effect Jan. 1, requires insurers to bankroll more benefits for patients, Southard said.

“If you add benefits, you add costs,” he said.

However health insurance doesn’t just cover sickness and accidents anymore.

Because student health insurance complies with the Affordable Care Act standards, students who are covered will also avoid a government fine levied on uninsured adults in March.

To comply with Obamacare, Southard adopted Nationwide health insurance after his former underwriter Colombia Insurance dropped its health care coverage.

The healthcare law requires companies to provide a list of co-pay or coinsurance-exempt services.

Under the plan, students older than 26 pay $1,700 a year for insurance. Adding a spouse costs about $6,000 and about $4,500 for students 25 or younger. Each child costs about $4,000 for 26-year-olds and about $3,000 for
clients 25 or younger.

Student Body President Bryan Larson sat in the Student Senate office Tuesday with a full-size Southard calendar sprawled across his desktop. Senate sponsors student health insurance and there’s a link to insurance information on
Senate’s website.

“There are a lot of students right now who are thinking ‘what am I going to do,’” Larson said. “To my knowledge, the plan that Mr. Southard is offering is one of the cheapest plans you’re likely to find.”

Larson said although enrollment in student insurance plans has been declining over the past few years, the impending federal fine may spur students to adopt Senate-sponsored coverage.

Southard said there are big benefits to buying student insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

“I can’t believe we don’t have every young lady under this coverage,” Southard said. “You get a free physical once a year and free birth control.”

Paul Bammel, vice president and chief financial officer of Mayo Clinic in Eau Claire, said the Affordable Care Act hasn’t driven up costs as much for hospitals as insurance providers.

“They indicated they would have to increase rates because nothing is free,” Bammel said. “From their standpoint, I can see where they’re coming from.”

Mayo Clinic gives discounts or forgives medical bills for uninsured people based on financial need, Bammel said. But because more people will be covered under the Affordable Care Act, Mayo set aside less money for debt forgiveness, he said.

Mayo increased the cost of services 3.9 percent last November, Bammel said, but that increase isn’t related to Affordable Care Act mandates.

“From the patient’s perspective, most if not all of the Affordable Care Act is positive,” Bammel said. “From a provider perspective … until I know otherwise, it’s neutral.”

Paul Meznarich, spokesman for Mayo Clinic, said the insurance charge does not just pay for the extra benefits afforded through Obamacare. More expensive insurance supports people with more health issues.

“Each person has to decide,” Meznarich said. “Do I feel good about doing that, or is it every man for himself out there.