Eric Edwards | 12-20-2016

Selecting a health insurance plan for your institution’s international students can be a daunting task. With so many plans available, it can be difficult to know which one is the right choice for your school. Here are a few tips to help ease the selection process.

5. Consider Student Needs

The needs of international and domestic students vary widely. After all, domestic students will likely have little need for repatriation services or other similar benefits, but your international students will most definitely need a plan that includes such coverage, even if they don’t know it. If you are sure to consider the unique needs of the international student demographic as you consider various health insurance plans, you will almost surely select a plan that offers them more tailored and appropriate coverage when compared to a US employer style plan that is being provided to the US domestic students.

4. Compare Rates and Coverage

Rather than simply opting for the plan with the lowest price tag, take some time to compare the rates and the coverage the plan offers; you want to be sure you are not trading the quality of coverage for a lower price. You may even discover some providers with low prices are also offering comparably poor coverage, no network, or limited network coverage. A fair rate will give your international students the best possible coverage for a reasonable price. Ensuring good coverage will help avoid unpleasant surprises—such as unexpected out-of-pocket costs—for these international students.

3. Ask If the Plan Is Separate

Some insurance providers will try to convince you that the only way to make a plan affordable is to group the largest possible number of students together; i.e., combining international and domestic students on one plan. In reality, there are more advantages to separating these diverse student populations on plans tailored to their needs. US domestic students need to be covered under expensive and comprehensive coverage that complies with the Affordable Care Act (ACA). International students need to be covered on cost effective plans that protect them during their stay in the US and can help them return home in case of a catastrophic event or long term illness. International students should be protected by plans that are much more cost effective than the ACA plans that are being offered to US Domestic students.

By lumping the international students into the US style plan, international students are actually paying more in premium costs to subsidize the purchase of ACA coverage for the US domestic students. So colleges that combine international and domestic students aren’t actually experiencing cost savings and are forcing international students into a health plan that doesn’t address their unique needs.

2. Look at the Support Services

Another way to evaluate an international student health insurance plan is to examine the kind of support services the provider offers as part of the plan. This can include support for student advisors, but also for students and their families. Student advisors will want to be able to speak with a representative, either through on-site visits or by phone, and they should expect effective communication of plan and coverage updates.

Some plans may also offer support services uniquely geared to students themselves, such as consultation in their first language and help navigating the sometimes-intimidating American healthcare system. These kinds of services help students make more effective use of their benefits. If you select an option with these services, you’ll be enlisting the help of an international student health insurance plan program manager, who can do everything from coordinate medical benefits and repatriation services to help explain complex insurance terms to students.

1. Ask Your Colleagues

Selecting a health insurance plan for international students can be a complex task, no matter the size of your institution. Don’t feel that you need to go it alone—ask your colleagues, both in other departments at your school, as well as from other similar colleges and universities, for their thoughts on how to ensure international students are well cared for during their time in the studying the US.

How to Evaluate International Student Health Insurance Options

Author: Eric Edwards