How to Evaluate International Student Health Insurance Options

Nik LewerNik Lewer | April 19, 2017

The insurance market can be intimidating, even for seasoned shoppers such as school advisors and administrators. With complex insurance terms being tossed around amid myriad options, it can be tricky to evaluate all of your choices and be sure you’re getting both the coverage you need and a good deal

Evaluating international student health insurance is even more nuanced than typical health insurance. After all, international students have unique needs while they are studying in the US. Here are a few tips to make the process of evaluating insurance for this unique student body a little simpler.

Compare Coverage

International student health insurance isn’t an entirely different ball game; some of the principles of shopping for any other insurance policy apply to international students, too. 

First and foremost, you should be comparing coverage. Plans are not created equal, which means what appears to be a great deal may not actually be so great once you dig a little deeper. Some plans offer a great price, but they get there by using high deductibles or slashing coverage. The same rule that applies to life also applies to international student health insurance—if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is! 

As an example, comprehensive coverage that is customized for international students at the collegiate level should typically run anywhere from $100-$130 per student per month premium. A plan at that premium should be offering 100% coverage in network with no deductible, and somewhere between a $250K and $500K maximum benefit. When you find a plan that costs $40 per student per month in premium, you can bet that the coverage is far more restrictive and filled with several substantial “gotcha” exclusions. 

Be sure to select a plan that provides first dollar medical coverage—this will help you avoid high deductibles or inadequate coverage that can typically leave students paying out of pocket for medical services. What is first dollar coverage? It means that the insurance plan begins paying at the first dollar of cost of treatment. 

For example, there is no applicable deductible or coinsurance payment required by the student, in most instances. And even if you have a comprehensive plan from a medical insurance standpoint, your international student health insurance policy should include services such as emergency evacuation and repatriation.

Check the Limitations

A wise man one said, “If you want to know what an insurance plan will cover, go read the exclusions.” A benefit summary or high level brochure is a good way to get a sense of how an insurance plan will pay claims. However, study the exclusions, maximums, limitations, definitions and eligibility terms of the policy to best understand how a plan will react to high cost claims, pre-existing conditions, and other complex medical issues. 

When you’re evaluating your insurance options, be sure to keep these sorts of things in mind. A survey of your current international student body is a great starting point to help you determine what kinds of limitations are acceptable. For example, are you a tech institution with 98 percent male international students? If so, you likely don’t need to offer them coverage for birth control pills!

Get Better Service

Many international student health insurance policies will offer extended services. These include assistance plans such as 24-hour help and emergency medical services. Some plans will go above and beyond, offering educational opportunities for students to better understand their coverage. Providers might even offer assistance for school administrators who need help ensuring their international students are aware of their coverage, its limitations, and how to use it. The best plans also offer assistance in a variety of languages, which can support students from almost any part of the world.

But a word of caution—not all plans will offer these services as part of the price you’re paying. In fact, some providers will charge extra for such services, or, they may not even offer them. Again, ensuring you have the best plan doesn’t always come down to getting the best price. Lower price points might be attractive, but it could mean students can’t use their coverage effectively. It’s kind of like cell phone coverage. The cheapest cell phone plan may seem great on paper, but once you start to use the cell phone, you realize the network hardly works well anywhere!

Know What You Want

Perhaps the trickiest part of evaluating international student health insurance is knowing what you want in the first place. Without understanding the market, it can be difficult to know what’s available or what’s considered reasonable.

Without a good idea of what you want your plan to offer, you may accept a plan that doesn’t provide adequate coverage for students, simply because you think the coverage outlined is adequate. You may also be sold coverage and benefits you don’t need to provide to your international students, such as an ACA-compatible plan—international students are exempt from ACA coverage, so you don’t need a plan that’s ACA-compatible. Those plans have higher deductibles, more out of pocket exposure for international students, may not cover critical unique benefits that international students require, and are more expensive!

Here, some research will be instructive. Tap into your colleagues, peers and even your international students to learn more about their needs and how they use their insurance. Once you know what you want, you can more easily evaluate insurance policies for your international students.

How to Evaluate International Student Health Insurance Options

Nik Lewer

Nik is vice president at The Lewer Agency. He has over 10 years of experience in global benefits and human resources consulting, and helped grow a team of global benefits consultants from two to 25 nationwide. He is an International Society of Certified Employee Benefit Specialists (ISCEBS) fellow, certified as a Global Professional in Human Resources (GPHR), and is licensed in Life, Accident, and Health insurance. Nik’s wide range of interests include mountain climbing, hiking, playing guitar and live music, reading, watching movies, staying up on current events, long distance running, good food and drinks, long walks on the beach, and knitting.

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