Trip Cancellation Insurance – Considerations for Study Abroad

June 30th, 2022 by Sally McLeod

As countries loosen border restrictions and the world begins to navigate a new normal surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, many are beginning to revisit that long awaited trip outside the country that may have been planned or even canceled during the last few years. The same goes for colleges and universities revisiting their study abroad programs and educational trips that have been put on hold as decisions are now being made to ramp up travel for the upcoming academic year.

While travel is becoming easier than in the past few years, it’s important to recognize that there are new obstacles that require additional caution as travel still isn’t what it once was. New protocols have been put into place since the pandemic began and it’s important to familiarize yourself with every country’s travel regulations and restrictions in addition to keeping in mind that despite vaccinations, COVID-19 and its variants continue to spread and infect people across the globe.

So, what can be done to ensure your study abroad trip goes as smoothly as planned, despite these additional challenges? One trend we’ve noticed is the need for trip cancellation insurance and the increase in inquiries from individuals and schools alike. We’re here to break down just what trip cancellation insurance is in addition to the acronym that has become increasingly popularized, CFAR.

What is trip cancellation insurance?

Trip cancellation insurance is exactly that – insurance in case you need to cancel your trip. Trip cancellation insurance protects your non-refundable travel expenses in the event something unexpected were to happen, whether it’s a traffic accident on the way to the airport, stolen travel documents, an illness or injury, death of a family member and so on. Depending on the plan, you can be reimbursed up to 100% of your trip cost if you need to cancel, in addition to other travel benefits. Additional benefits on these plans may also include: 

  • Baggage protection and reimbursement
  • Replacement for lost passports or other travel documentation
  • Expenses paid for replacement items if your baggage is delayed
  • Emergency Medical Evacuation and Repatriation

Trip cancellation vs. travel insurance

While these two terms can be interchangeable, they aren’t necessarily the same thing. Travel insurance may also be referring to health and travel insurance, which is different from trip cancellation insurance. While you’ll want to be sure you have a health insurance plan in place for your students while they are abroad, it’s important to also familiarize yourself with any additional benefits on a health and travel insurance plan to see if you need trip cancellation insurance as additional protection.

Is trip cancellation necessary?

You may feel that your health and travel insurance plan provides enough protection for other trip related costs and that trip cancellation insurance isn’t necessary. Oftentimes, health and travel insurance includes benefits for travel expenses such as lost checked luggage, trip interruption, travel delays and traditionally also includes coverage for Emergency Medical Evacuation and Repatriation of Remains. Health and Travel insurance is generally very affordable when going outside the United States and starts around $1.00 per day for comprehensive coverage, while trip cancellation insurance premiums depend on the cost of the trip itself and can range anywhere from about 4-10% of the total non-refundable trip cost. 

You may not need to purchase a trip cancellation plan if many of your pre-paid deposits for your trip are refundable or you have purchased all flights and accommodations with enough flexibility and coverage, that trip cancellation coverage isn’t worth the additional expense. 

The fine print

While trip cancellation plans offer coverage for the non-refundable expenses of your trip in the event you need to cancel, there are oftentimes still restrictions under which you can cancel and be refunded – and at what level you will be reimbursed. This has become a hot topic of discussion since the rise of COVID-19, as many trip cancellation plans have exclusions for pandemic related expenses. Luckily, this is where a Cancel for Any Reason add-on found on many trip cancellation plans comes into play and can be a great resolution for this ongoing issue. 

CFAR

CFAR, otherwise known as Cancel for Any Reason, has become the most coveted component in trip cancellation plans since the beginning of the pandemic. This benefit is ideal for avoiding strict guidelines found in other trip cancellation plans, and oftentimes covers up to 75% of non-refundable expenses and can be found as an add on or purchased for an additional cost to many trip cancellation plans.

CFAR is an important benefit to have to avoid pandemic related exclusions, and allows you the comfort and flexibility knowing that you are not limited in why you need to cancel. It’s important to be aware that the CFAR benefit cannot be added on at any time and you’ll oftentimes need to purchase this within a certain period of time (usually 20 days) after your initial trip deposit.

The CFAR benefit, while allowing for ultimate flexibility, comes at a price and generally will increase your trip cancellation coverage significantly. It’s also important to note that while you can “Cancel for Any Reason” you generally will be required to cancel at least 48 hours prior to your departure.

Aside from a few items to be aware of, the CFAR benefit allows you to be the most protected and flexible with any trip and is a great option to consider as you begin to revisit and plan your upcoming study abroad programs!

Find out more about our Trip Cancellation plans and decide which is best for you and your program! 

What’s the difference between extending, renewing and buying a new international student insurance plan?

May 24th, 2022 by Jennifer Frankel

Do you have students who enroll in their insurance plan but stop coverage over the summer or re-enroll in a new plan each semester? Alternatively, do you have students who keep their insurance plan active year after year? The way you and your students manage their insurance can impact their coverage and how existing conditions they have may be covered.

Extensions, renewals or enrolling in a new policy may at first glance seem like interchangeable insurance jargon, but they are not. It is important to understand the differences and what impact they may have on your students’ coverage. In today’s blog, we will demystify these terms to help you better understand their insurance plan and how to best administer it.

To begin our discussion, we will first look at the three terms and what they mean:

Extension 

When a student extends their insurance plan, it means they are adding more time to the end of their policy. Typically, the policy number stays the same but the end date will change to a later point in time. In cases like these, students may have to pay a nominal administrative fee to extend their plan in addition to the cost for the additional coverage. 

Renewal

Similar to extending a policy, a renewal will also add more time to the end of the policy and will typically keep the same policy number. What makes the renewal distinct from extensions is that you are finishing a certificate period year and starting a new one. That means that some benefits that say “per certificate period year” will start over in their benefits. An example would be if you had an insurance plan that had $500,000 coverage per certificate period year. When you renew the plan, the $500,000 limit will start over. If you are extending an existing plan, you would continue to have the same $500,000 coverage minus any payment in claims.

New Policy

While this isn’t an official insurance term, it’s important to clarify that a new policy is when a student enrolls in a new plan by completing a new application. Generally, a new policy number is given and a new ID card is issued.

Now that we understand what all three terms mean, the next step is to understand what the benefits are on their international student insurance plan, particularly how pre-existing conditions are handled.

A pre-existing condition is essentially any condition that has happened before the start of the insurance plan. There is typically a look back period and international student insurance plans may have a waiting period before pre-existing conditions are covered such as a 12 or six months. There are some plans that may not cover pre-existing conditions at all, others that may limit the coverage for pre-existing conditions, or still others that may cover pre-existing conditions from day one. So what makes a covered condition different from a pre-existing condition? As long as the condition is covered on the plan, the difference will be when the accident happened and the dates of coverage of the plan.

For simplicity purposes, let’s take these examples:

Example 1. A student has coverage from August – December and they break their leg in September. This condition would be considered an eligible medical expense and would be covered.

Example 2. A student has coverage from August – December and they break their leg in July. This condition would be considered a pre-existing condition since the accident happened before the plan started.

Using these same rules of thumb, this can be used to show what happens if a student buys a new plan versus extending/renewing a new policy. Let’s take Example 1 where a student has a plan from August – December and they break their leg in September, the medical expenses would be covered the same as any other illness/injury until the end of the policy in December. Now, let’s say the student extends coverage through until next August. Any medical expenses for this injury would continue to be covered since it’s the same plan. If they plan to study another year and they renew their plan, their leg would continue to be covered because, again, it’s the same plan.

However, let’s take the same Example 1. The student has a plan from August – December and they break their leg in September, the medical expenses would be covered the same as any other illness/injury until the end of the policy in December. Let’s say the student decides to buy a new plan that starts in January and goes until August. In a case like this, the student would have completed a new application, been issued a new ID card with a new policy number. If the student had ongoing medical treatment for the broken leg on the new plan in February, this broken leg would now be considered a pre-existing condition and may not be covered or may be subject to a waiting period.

So if that’s the case, why wouldn’t a student always extend or renew their plan? There are a few reasons for this:

  • Breaks – in some cases, students may not want to pay for coverage during winter break or summer break, so they will stop coverage so that they do not have to pay for insurance during those breaks.
  • Administrative Fees – sometimes there is a small fee the student must pay each time they extend or renew, so they may choose to enroll in a new plan to avoid those fees (those fees are often $5 but depends on the carrier).
  • Renewal Premium – rates will often increase year to year when a student renews the same plan so it might be more affordable to buy a new plan rather than keeping their existing plan active.
  • Convenience – sometimes it’s just easier to go through the application than to log into their account to extend coverage.

No matter the reason, it’s important to understand the coverage of your student’s policy, how to administer it, and what the implications are. Each insurance plan is different so it’s important to contact the insurance company to be sure you and your students understand how this all works to avoid any unnecessary surprises and expenses. 

If you have questions or need help, please contact our insurance team at info@internationalstudentinsurance.com

How To Negotiate Medical Bills With Providers

April 5th, 2022 by Sutherland Beever

Unpaid medical bills are daunting, and while it would be easier for students to collect unopened invoices in a shoebox and hide them forever under the bed, it’s best to tackle them head-on.

This blog will help you help your international students manage unpaid medical bills in 4 straightforward steps.

Step One: Complete a Medical Release Form & Set Expectations Appropriately

Due to HIPPA laws in the United States, as an international advisor, you won’t be able to call and discuss any of your student’s medical bills or health history without their OK. 

The hospital or doctor’s office will likely have a form that the student will need to complete in order to allow you to discuss their protected medical history. Help the student find the form (they’re usually located on the provider’s website) and let the student know that you’re here to help, but resolving unpaid bills will need to be a team effort.

There are a few different outcomes with any unpaid medical bills:

  1. Worst Case Scenario: The provider may not offer any reductions and will continue to charge the full amount due.
  2. Better Scenario: The total amount of the bills is reduced by at least a small percentage.
  3. Best Scenario: The bills are written off completely, meaning the student doesn’t owe a dime. 

Step Two: Gather The Bills and Ensure They’re Correct  

Before you’re able to help the student negotiate the bills it’s important that you can paint a full picture of what is owed and to whom. Encourage the student to provide you with a copy of each and every bill that they’ve received, along with copies of any documentation from the student’s insurance company stating why the bills weren’t covered. You’ll also want to ensure you have copies of each of the Explanation of Benefits (or EOBs for short) from the insurance company, showing why a bill was denied. 

Once all of the documents are collected, take the time to review them in detail. The people that work in the billing department can make mistakes from time to time and those mistakes could mean duplicate charges. Ensure that the student was only billed for treatment that they received and only billed once for each service. 

Step Three: Do Your Research

Now that the necessary form is on file for you to discuss the medical bills on behalf of your student, and you understand the total amount of the debt it’s time to do some research.

It’s common knowledge that providers grossly overcharge for services, so look online to compare how much the student was charged vs. what the average amount would be. Being able to confidently iterate to providers that you know they’re overcharging for services, if that is the case, can be helpful during your negotiation (that’s step 4).

Here are some examples:

  • If your student was charged $100,000 for an appendectomy, but the national average is closer to $30,000 you can use this as ammunition during your conversation with the provider in the hopes that they’ll lower the overall amount of the debt.
  • Hospitals can often charge hundreds of dollars for a pregnancy test, 

It is also important to be able to accurately explain a student’s financial situation or inability to pay for the medical bills. Have a conversation with a student about what their home life looks like and what amount, if any, they’d be able to pay towards the medical bills each month. 

Providers will oftentimes accept a lower amount than what was invoiced if the student is able to offer a lump sum payment. Be sure to inquire about this as well before calling the provider to negotiate the debt. See what amount, if any, the student and their family would be able to pay to get rid of the bills once and for all.

Step Four: Call the Provider(s)

Now you are ready for action! Gather all of the information that you’ve collected thus far and give the provider a ring. Just like at colleges or universities, most hospitals have a financial aid office – and it’s the job of the people that work there to help lower-income patients afford their medical treatment. Rather than calling the number on the bill, first look at the provider’s website to see if they have a financial aid office.

Here is everything that you’ll want to have available during the call:

  1. Each of the bills 
  2. The dollar amounts that are normally charged for any given service and any errors that have been found within the bills
  3. The dollar amount that the student could afford to pay each month towards their debt.
  4. The lump-sum amount that the student is willing to pay the provider to get rid of the balance completely.

Sometimes providers will ask that a student writes what is called a Letter of Hardship to explain their financial situation and why their debts should be reduced or eliminated. If this is the case, take all of the documentation and information that has been collected and help the student write a letter asking the provider to kindly eliminate the debt. The more heartfelt and detailed the letter, the better! 

Regardless if you and the student are able to have a conversation over the phone or if you have to write a letter, be sure to check back in with the provider 30 days or so down the road for the resolution. Don’t expect them to contact the student again – it’s now the student’s job to ensure that the provider is reviewing their request. 

An In-Depth Look at ISI’s Administrator Resources

February 23rd, 2022 by Leah Hammond

Here at International Student Insurance, our main priority is not only to provide high quality insurance options for international students, but also to make sure these students, as well as their colleges and universities, fully understand the coverage they are purchasing. Insurance in the United States can be confusing, and with the added stress of being in a new place, taking classes, and making new friends, health insurance is likely the last thing on your student’s minds. This is why we’ve created a number of resources (available for free!) that will help students and administrators navigate their way through the intricate world of health insurance. From video resources and training programs, to customized landing pages and student orientations, this blog post will explore the different resources we offer that schools and students can utilize to understand their health insurance in greater detail. 

Video Resources

Arguably our most popular resource, we offer a variety of different videos on topics related to the U.S. Healthcare System and Insurance Products, Emotional Wellness, and Sexual Assualt Awareness. All of our videos are available at no cost, and can be accessed by students through our website, or embedded on your school’s website directly. 

U.S. Healthcare System and Health Insurance Videos 

We all know how complicated the U.S. Healthcare System can be, so we’ve created a video specifically designed to help international students better understand the ins and outs of seeking treatment while in the United States. This video includes tips for students before they leave their home country, and includes common words and phrases to help make understanding healthcare in the U.S. easier. 

We also have video resources that provide an overview of two of our most popular health insurance plans – the Student Secure plan and the Atlas Travel Medical plan. These videos are great resources available to help students understand how the coverage works before they purchase. 

Sexual Assualt Awarness and Emotional Wellness Videos 

Along with insurance focused video resources, we’ve also created resources that focus on different challenges international students may face while in the United States. 

We explore Emotional Wellness through videos on Mental Health Awareness that look at common warning signs, myths and stigmas, and ways to seek treatment, Culture Shock, with stories from International Students sharing their experiences when arriving in the United States, as well as COVID-19 and how the pandemic has impacted their lives emotionally. 

We also look at the topic of Sexual Assault Awarness with a video resource that dives into the concept of consent, how to protect yourself, and what to do if sexual assault occurs, as well as a video interviewing International Students about their views on sexual assault and the differences culturally around the globe

Facebook and YouTube Live 

ISI is regularly creating new videos on our Facebook and Youtube pages to keep students and administrators engaged and provide them with important information on insurance and wellness topics. On the insurance side, our Facebook and Youtube Live videos include topics such as OPT and J-1 insurance options, how to file claims, locating in-network providers, and understanding your school’s insurance requirements. We also have videos with more wellness based subjects, and will sometimes feature an expert on the topic, like videos on healthy eating habits, fitness, stress free budgeting tips, and the importance of sleep. 

Follow us on Facebook and Subscribe to our YouTube Channel for first access to these video resources! 

Our video resources were designed specifically for students and administrators to help with day to day challenges that international students may face. They are available at no cost, and you are welcome to share them with your students or to add them to your school’s website. 

Training Programs 

What first started as simple video resources on Sexual Assault Awareness and Mental Health Awareness has now turned into two full training guides on the subjects. These training guides are available to schools at no cost, and can be a great addition to your International Student Orientations to help discuss these sensitive topics. 

Sexual Assault Awareness Training Guide 

Addressing the intricacies of sexual assault, the concept of consent, and Title IX with your international students can be complicated enough given the cultural differences surrounding the topic. In partnership with RAINN, we have developed a full training program that includes a powerpoint presentation and a proctor guide to go along with it, interactive activities to get students engaged, video resources, and a student handout. The training was designed to be done in one-hour, but can be adjusted to fit different time constraints. 

Mental Health Awareness Training Guide 

As emotional and mental health continued to grow as a hot topic across schools throughout the United States, we noticed an ever growing need for more resources focused on International Students and mental health. The training guide focuses on culture shock, stress, anxiety, and depression, and addresses the stigmas and barriers that international students face in seeking help. To create this comprehensive training program, we worked with the Center for Cross-Cultural Student Emotional Wellness at Massachusetts General Hospital. This training guide includes the same features as our Sexual Assault Awarness Training Program and can be completed in one hour or less. 

Best Practices Guide 

We have created a Best Practices Guide specifically for international education professionals on selecting and managing health insurance for their international students. This 30-page guide provides international educators with a detailed overview of the U.S. healthcare market and what key factors you should consider when choosing the best health insurance options for your students. 

Customized Landing Pages 

We offer free customized landing pages on our website that will direct students to purchase the correct plans that have been approved by their school. This will ensure students are purchasing the right coverage, and comes with an array of benefits for school administrators including: 

  • A one stop shop where you can direct your students to purchase their insurance coverage, 
  • The ability to include your school’s branding and logo, 
  • The option to show the plans, coverage dates and levels you’ve selected, 
  • The option to show predefined coverage periods, 
  • The ability to include specific wording and instructions for your students. 

International Student Insurance Orientations 

In order to make sure students really understand their health insurance coverage, our team at ISI would be happy to set up an orientation session to help educate your students about insurance and the U.S. healthcare system. 

This is usually something that is done if a school recommends one plan to all of their students, and it can be a pre-recorded video that can be shared with the students, or a live online interactive session that is scheduled during international student orientation. 

At ISI, we take pride in providing resources not only to our students, but to the administrators as well, that will help make the world of insurance a little less complicated. All of the resources we offer are free of charge, and can be accessed through our website. Our customer service team is available to answer any questions you may have about these resources, and can help with creating a landing page, scheduling an orientation, sending brochures, and more! 

Questions? Please contact us for more information! 

Health Insurance Group Plans for International Students

January 4th, 2022 by Jennifer Frankel

The importance for group health insurance for international students and travelers has been heightened during the COVID pandemic’s unrelenting presence throughout the world. It has never been more important to make sure you have a solid health insurance plan that will meet the unique needs of your international student body. 

In today’s blog, we will discuss the importance of group health insurance as well as changes in the industry that you can incorporate to better serve your international students.

Why A Group Plan

The pandemic has placed an increasing importance on health insurance for international students. Unlike other visa categories, international students on a F1 or M1 visa are not required by the US Department of State to have health insurance and instead leave the requirements up to their school. Because of this, schools have various ways of handling health insurance from requiring their international students to enroll on a selected group insurance plan to not requiring or recommending any insurance plan at all.

While the approach may vary, the importance of health insurance has never been more important for international students. The United States continues to be the most expensive country in the world for health care. The average emergency room visit costs, for example, $2,200 on average, according to UnitedHealthcare (the largest insurance carrier in the U.S.). Add to that the increasing medical inflation year after year and the additional COVID procedures that are further increasing medical costs, and your students may be more financially vulnerable than ever before.

There are many advantages to having a health insurance group plan for international students including:

You Know Your Plan & Who is Enrolled

All students are on one plan that has been vetted and approved by your school’s administration. You know that your plan is solid, that it meets the needs of your students, and that students will be able to go to a US-provider without having to pay and be reimbursed. 

Simplified Communication

Having one plan makes it easier to know who to contact at your insurance company, familiarize yourself with the procedures (like, what do you do in case of a medical emergency), and simplifies communication with your staff and students.

Dedicated Account Manager

Health insurance group plans often have an account manager able to support staff and administrators managing their group plan. At ISI, we provide every group client with a dedicated account manager who is on hand and able to assist with anything that comes up from enrollment questions, claims help, emergency assist cases, orientation, and the renewal process. It can be helpful to have someone in charge of your plan and that you can always reach out to, especially in a time of need.

Enrollment Tool

One area of simplification on a group health insurance plan is that you can enroll all of your international students instead of having to find out each student’s insurance coverage dates and payment mode. With a group plan, schools will enroll their students for the correct period and include that cost into the student’s tuition. We also have the option for students to pay for their plan, but administrators can view enrollments through our proprietary enrollment system.

Group Zone

While administrators will be able to fully administer and manage enrollments through the enrollment tool, international students will have their own insurance portal as well. This insurance portal, known as our Group Zones, allows international students to learn about the US healthcare system, find providers, download their documents, and track claims.

Changes in the Industry

The last couple of years of this pandemic has led to fascinating changes in the US healthcare system that will likely continue for the foreseeable future. These benefits have grown in importance and can be included on your group health insurance plan, these include:

COVID coverage

With variants spurring new spikes in cases, it is important to ensure that your group health insurance plan covers COVID-19. This should include if a student needs medical attention or is hospitalized. Some plans may also cover vaccines and/or COVID tests, so be sure to understand what is and what isn’t covered.

Telemedicine

Telemedicine was gaining popularity before COVID, but its acceptance and recognition really emerged during the pandemic where providers and patients were cautious when it came to in-person treatment. Telemedicine allows students to simply call or video call with a provider for minor illnesses or injuries. The provider can often provide treatment over the phone and even prescribe medication, or in specific cases they may refer the student to an in-person provider for emergency care. This makes getting treatment quick and easy, and international students can do this from the comfort of home. Many plans either include this as an integrated part of the policy or may allow students to choose the telemedicine service of their choice. For more on telemedicine and why it’s important on a health insurance group plan, please read our recent blogs on telehealth.

Mental Health & Telecounseling

With international students more isolated, mental health has been a growing issue that has captured the attention of many university officials. An increase in the levels of anxiety and depression has been growing, and can be exacerbated when there are required quarantines or shut downs. While many schools have a counseling center on campus, some students may be unable or unwilling to use these services – and there are often longer than usual wait times. Integrating telecounseling can be another way to reach these students where licensed counselors can work with students directly. 

LifeWorks is one of our newer services that can be integrated into any ISI group insurance plan. LifeWorks My SSP connects students with telecounseling support in their native language and cultural context, and is designed to complement academic institutions’ existing on-campus services.

If you are interested in a group plan with these services, learn more about ISI health insurance group plan and how to integrate these benefits on your plan.

3 Tips to Help Get Your Student’s Medical Claims Paid ASAP

November 3rd, 2021 by Sutherland Beever

While there may be a myriad of reasons you love being an international student advisor, let’s be honest; helping students navigate the ever-complicated US healthcare system isn’t at the top of your list. 

Taking your students to the doctor is oftentimes the easy part. It’s ensuring that the insurance company has everything they need to process the bills after the appointment that can be a bit tricky. Luckily for you, this blog will outline some sure-fire ways to help ensure your students’ insurance claims are processed as quickly as possible.

Tip #1 Ensure Your Student Shows Their Insurance ID Card When Seeking Medical Treatment

There’s a reason why this tip has made the top of the list. The easiest way to help ensure medical bills are processed quickly is to make sure that students bring a copy of their insurance ID card with them to their appointment and show the card when asked. 

Think about it. When a student visits the doctor and doesn’t indicate that they have health insurance the provider will naturally send the bill directly to the student. Hospitals aren’t usually psychic and without a valid ID number, the correct spelling of the member’s name, and a plethora of other information located on the ID card the provider’s only option is to send the student the bill. 

Your students are bombarded with important information both pre and post-departure, and it’s easy for insurance cards to get lost in the shuffle. As soon as the semester starts, ask each student for a copy of their insurance ID card to keep on file in case they need to seek treatment. Nowadays insurance companies usually offer electronic ID cards as well that your students can save to their Android Passes or Apple Wallet. Encouraging your students to download virtual copies of the card can save a lot of time and frustration down the road.

Tip #2 Always Have Your Students Complete A Claim Form After Visiting The Doctor

One form can oftentimes be the difference between a medical bill smoothly sailing through the claims process or coming to a screeching stop. 

A claim form (sometimes called a proof of loss form) can likely be found on the website of your student’s chosen insurance company and oftentimes are pretty straightforward to complete. The document will collect general information about the student and the situation that arose, prompting the medical bill. Be sure that your students complete each of the sections to the best of their ability.  Leaving even small sections of the form incomplete can result in delays. 

Not every insurance plan out there will require a claim form, but the majority do. If you aren’t sure where to find the claim form or if it’s required, give the insurance company a ring via the number on the ID card. 

Tip #3 Check-In With The Insurance Company Regularly 

Sometimes simply showing an ID card and filling in a claim form isn’t enough to get a bill processed. From time to time, additional information like medical records will be needed in order to successfully resolve a bill. 

After a student visits the doctor, encourage them to give the insurance company a call. During the call, the student can ask if there are any additional steps that may be required and also learn how long it may take the bill to be fully processed. 

Here are some questions your student should ask

  1. What items do you need for the claim to be processed?
  2. When can I expect the claim to be resolved?
  3. How will I be notified about the resolution of the claim? 

Write the anticipated resolution date down and if the student hasn’t received any updates by that date, give the company another call. While it’s easy to assume that a medical bill will be resolved between the provider and insurance company, things aren’t always that easy.

By following the three steps above you will help your students save time and have the best chance possible for their bills to be resolved before they become a stressor. Staying organized, submitting the necessary documentation, and having open communication with the insurance company are key. In the unfortunate event that any bills are ultimately denied, this blog will outline your student’s options.

No Surprises Act

October 8th, 2021 by Ross Mason

On December 27, 2020 the No Surprises Act was signed into law with the main goal of addressing the issue of surprise medical bills under health insurance plans when treatment is sought out-of-network. The majority of the legislation goes into effect on January 1st 2022, and with that date rapidly coming up we wanted to outline what this legislation means for international students and how it will impact them. There are many parts of this bill, but here is a brief summary of a few of the key items that could affect international students. 

Out of Network Billing

The main crux of the act is revolving around the balance billing of patients when medical treatment is sought out-of-network. Nearly all insurance plans for international students include a provider network (also known as a PPO Network) where students can seek medical care without the need to pay upfront. In cases like these, the insurer encourages you to seek medical treatment within this network as the insurance company has pre-negotiated, fixed rates ahead of time. It is a way for insurers to control costs in the US medical system. 

While students may have the option to go in-network, some students still may not. Most of these cases occur at the emergency room where the student needs immediate medical care and is not in a position to choose a hospital that is part of their network. Still others may choose an out-of-network provider based on convenience, recommendation, or availability.

When treatment is sought out-of-network, the provider can bill a much larger sum than if a patient were to seek medical treatment at an in-network provider. In other cases, students who choose to go out of network may also be responsible for additional costs such as if the plan only pays reasonable and customary expenses (leaving the insured to pay the rest) or if the plan only pays the equivalent in-network fees (again, leaving the insured to pay the remaining amount). This act of balance billing by the provider will be illegal starting on January 1st 2022. 

Provider Networks

As part of the act, PPO Networks will also be in the spotlight for attention as they will be required by law to adhere to a few key guidelines:

  • Update and verify their directories every 90 days
  • Have an established procedure to remove providers who they cannot verify
  • Update information from providers within 2 days of receiving it
  • Respond to provider status within their network within 1 business day
  • Maintain a website directory with contracted providers full details

Obviously, most PPO Networks already have a website directory and procedures to keep it updated, but this law will now make it compulsory and should see smaller PPO Networks need to step up their game to keep their networks fresh and updated. 

Advanced Explanation of Benefits

Insurance plans will now need to provide an advanced explanation of benefits when requested. This advanced explanation of benefits can be requested by the insured prior to any medical treatment and will show them the contracted rate for that procedure, if the provider is part of the network. When the provider is not part of the network, the advanced explanation of benefits will need to show them information on where they can find in-network providers, along with a good faith estimate from the provider and a good faith estimate of what the insurance plan will pay.

Insurance ID Cards

ID cards will now need to show:

  • Any deductibles
  • Out-of-pocket maximums
  • Assistance phone number
  • Website for assistance

Nearly all insurance ID cards already include this information already, so there will probably not be much to change here, but this law is making these items a requirement. 

International Plans Exempt?

The Act applies to “health insurance plans” and it should be noted that this really means domestic insurance plans that insure US citizens and residents, for example a health insurance plan provided by an employer or individual plans offered on the exchange (healthcare.gov). Most international student plans are written on an international basis (surplus lines), and many will not consider themselves “health insurance plans” and thus there could be pieces of this bill that will not apply to them. However, that is not to say that international students will not benefit from this act – because they will. Most international plans utilize nationally recognized PPO Networks who will be complying with the act, and most providers will now make it standard practice that balance billing is not allowed and thus we will most likely see this practice stop when it comes into effect. 

If you would like to dive into this in more depth, the American Medical Association has an excellent resource that goes into the finer details of the policy and please also reach out to your insurance company as they will also be able to let you know the changes they see happening from the Act. 

The Importance of Sleep – Practicing Self Care

August 20th, 2021 by Sally McLeod

As we strive to maintain our emotional wellness throughout the pandemic, it’s important to look at various ways we can improve our wellbeing. One notable component to focus on is getting a good night’s rest. Lack of sleep can lead to several issues and impact both our mental and physical health. Without adequate sleep, we may experience symptoms such as increased anxiety, depression, irritability, issues with memory retention, and increased fatigue. We also see physical impacts such as a weakened immune system, weight gain, and other medical conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. 

While it’s been noted that more than 70% of college-age students suffer from a lack of sleep, evidence suggests that poorer sleep quality is more present now than before the pandemic. Causes of poorer sleep quality can be attributed to less of a distinction in routine and increased anxiety. Multiple studies suggest that as students were isolated, many of the day-to-day tasks such as school, work, exercise, eating, and sleeping were taking place in the same space and dissolved a sense of routine. 

The issues that college students are facing throughout the pandemic, such as an adjustment to online learning, have been challenging for all but taken an even greater toll on international students. International students that returned to their home countries faced the increased challenge of attending classes in different time zones. Given that 60% of the international student population in the United States comes from China, India, and South Korea, those that returned home are taking classes in the middle of the night, leading to the inevitable lack of focus and concentration and overall poorer academic performance. 

The altered class schedule affecting sleep patterns in many international students can be seen as an additional factor in contributing to poorer mental health compared to that of domestic students. International students have also faced additional anxiety-inducing situations this past year. Unfortunately, poorer sleep quality only exacerbates these additional stressors. So, the question is, what can be done to help? 

Provide students with asynchronous learning activities

Having live classes that meet at specific times undoubtedly makes it challenging for international students in different time zones to stay engaged and attend. Adapting to an asynchronous style of teaching will help alleviate stress in many ways. This will allow students to stick to a more normalized sleep schedule. Students also can learn at their own pace, such as rewatching material by making recorded lectures available. Additionally, many virtual platforms such as zoom, also have automated captioning available making it even more beneficial for students where English is their second or even third language to comprehend the material. 

Other types of asynchronous learning can be conducted through discussion boards, and allow for reading and writing assignments due on a certain date, but done at one’s own pace. This allows students to keep a somewhat normal sleep schedule, along with being able to participate in other important activities that stimulate mental health such as meals with family, synchronized routines with others that they may be living with, etc.  

Be aware of the time zones, weekend days, and holidays of your students

International students studying at home may have different weekend days than in the US, in addition to different holidays and of course, a different time zone. By familiarizing yourself with what’s going on in your students’ home countries, you can try to adapt their assignments accordingly. If you have multiple students studying from the same country, organizing a social hour in their time zone can increase feelings of inclusivity and belonging, in addition to accommodating their sleep schedule! Being aware of students’ schedules and making an effort to adapt where possible, can promote a deeper connection and understanding with students, making them feel less isolated and alone.  

Encourage creating new routines 

If it is necessary for students to attend classes during the evenings or at night, creating a new routine and new habits are necessary. Encourage students to pick a bedtime they can stick with, in which they are going to sleep and waking up at the same time each day. Emphasize the importance of at least 7 – 9 hours of sleep in addition to aligning sleep as close to being awake in hours of daytime or sunlight and asleep in hours of nighttime or darkness, as possible. Creating an environment conducive to sleep, such as creating darkness to sleep, is also helpful. 

Underline the importance of sleep and provide resources 

Educate students on the importance of getting adequate sleep and its close ties to cognitive function and overall improved academic performance. It’s important to provide students with resources such as meditation and relaxation techniques, which not only helps foster sleep but also assists in the relief of anxiety and depression. Many colleges and universities have released content surrounding this with suggestions and tips such as trying a sleep app, keeping a sleep journal, along with various relaxation and breathing exercises. The University of Minnesota has done great work in educating its students on the importance of sleep and released a series of on-campus initiatives. If you’re interested in including more resources on sleep for your students, some great places to start are: 

https://www.sleepfoundation.org/

The sleep foundation is a go-to source for trustworthy sleep information. The site features a medical board, extensive articles based on sleep science, and comprehensive reviews of different sleep and wellness products.

https://sleepeducation.org/

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine is dedicated to promoting discoveries that advance the understanding of sleep for healthier lives, including articles, studies, opportunities to volunteer and participate in furthering sleep education, along with other valuable resources to share.

https://www.sleepassociation.org/

The American Sleep Association, with a mission to help increase the awareness of the importance of sleep and the harmful effects of sleep disorders.

https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/publications-and-resources

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, which develops materials and resources for both health professionals and consumers.

References: 

Zara Abrams “Growing concerns about sleep” 2021. [online] apa.org. Available at: https://www.apa.org/monitor/2021/06/news-concerns-sleep [Accessed 10 August 2021]

Grant Benham “Stress and sleep in college students prior to and during the COVID-19 pandemic” 2020. [online] onlinelibrary.wiley.com. Available at: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/smi.3016 [Accessed 10 August 2021]

UMD Health Services “Sleep Education & Initiatives” 2019. [online] unm.edu. Available at: https://health-services.d.umn.edu/health-education/sleep-education-initiatives [Accessed 9 August 2021]

How to prioritize yourself so you can help your students?

August 9th, 2021 by Yessica Prato

During one of our previous NAFSA Regional conferences, many attendees brought up topics that they had dealt with in their corresponding campuses. Topics ranged from helping students navigate the US healthcare system, tools for mental and emotional wellness, and the struggles with sexual assault and suicide. However, all of the resources discussed were focused on helping students. So what about the educators and administrators? 

At ISI, we understand the important role that emotional and mental health plays in our daily lives. We’ve developed many free resources over the years focused on the mental wellbeing of international students and scholars. However, in 2019, a published study done in collaboration between universities in the United Kingdom revealed that many factors can affect the environment of teachers at school and the state of their mental health directly impacts students’ mental health and well-being. A teacher that is able to be more present and be emotionally healthy will be able to build a stronger teacher-student relationship.

We cannot continue to ignore our international educators’ and administrators’ mental health. Many in our international community invest countless hours to help guide the incoming international students and scholars in their journey. In this blog we will begin the conversation and discuss some of the challenges teachers or educators face and some of the resources out there available for them specifically.

What is going on?

Research on teacher wellbeing has largely focused on factors such as stress, burnout, organizational and social pressures, and lack of supervisor or team support. It’s also important to note that the pressure on university/college leadership can oftentimes be greater. Add to that the very unique situation we all find ourselves in with the pandemic and it’s not surprising that many in the academic community are experiencing a state of chronic exhaustion. In a survey conducted by The Chronicle of Higher Education over the last year, more than half (55%) of college and university faculty considered changing careers or retiring early due to the increasing needs their job required. Some of the key findings included:

  • 69% of faculty members are stressed, compared to 32% in 2019
  • 68% of faculty members felt fatigued, compared to 32% in 2019
  • 74% of female faculty and 63% of male faculty members indicated their work/life balance has deteriorated

So how can this be improved?

Taking care of yourself while trying to help others is a difficult task. Nevertheless, there are resources available for teachers and administrators out there to help navigate these mental health challenges. 

  • Take your own advice: When a student is going through a tough time, you as an administrator or faculty member are usually the first to lend a helping hand. You are trained to recognize the symptoms of stress, trauma, or discomfort. It’s important to apply your own knowledge and give yourself a break.
  • Remind yourself why you began this journey: You have joined the profession for a reason. This profession is many times driven by wanting to help others and creating communities to make a difference in the lives of international students. Remind yourself of your “why”.
  • Learn not to internalize burnout as failure: Expecting anyone to overwork themselves is harmful and can create a cycle of burnout. The more tired you are, the less effective and productive you can be. Taking a break does not mean you’re failing, we’re humans not machines. 
  • Prioritize mental health and normalize conversations about it in the workplace: Many faculty members conduct research on topics of mental health and yet our society continues to consider it an uncomfortable subject until the physical effects appear. It’s important to be able to speak freely about mental health. 
  • Using the available resources on your campus: Many of the resources we’ve made available to students can be utilized by faculty and staff. As an international community, we tend to collect all these resources and share them with our students but fail to remember them when it’s time to care for us. 
  • Creating boundaries with yourself: Stick to doable work hours, carve some time for your meals, get enough sleep, and be sure to exercise!

Resources

Here are some additional resources that you may find useful as you begin prioritizing your mental health:

Teachers of America offers many resources for educators which also address mental health. These include worksheets and mindfulness applications that can be downloaded right to your phone. 

Breath for Change is another resource that encourages educators to practice mindfulness, yoga, and social-emotional learning.

Onward provides a series of worksheets and readings which help cultivate resilience and help better understand one’s emotions. 

Our aim with this information is to begin the important conversation of mental health and the challenges faced specifically by educators, faculty and administrators in the international community. There is little research done on this important community and we hope that by addressing it in our forum, this will spark more discussion. 

Telemedicine: A great way to reduce claims costs

June 23rd, 2021 by Ross Mason

Over the last 5 years, telemedicine services have really gained popularity around the world as an easy and affordable way for people to seek medical care. While the number of providers offering such services was rising, the recent COVID-19 pandemic has really given fuel to the telemedicine movement to a point where it is now becoming a staple in most insurance plans. Especially when it comes to international and study abroad students, having access to a telemedicine provider has a wealth of advantages.  

The original idea behind the development of telemedicine was to treat people who are in remote locations and do not have access to medical care. Now, with mobile phones in abundance, it is now being used with great effect to offer medical care to those at home and abroad. 

Why Telemedicine?

As an international student or study abroad student based in a new country, the prospect of seeking medical care if you are sick can be a little daunting. There could be a language barrier, a new healthcare system to juggle and everything in between that can make it hard to seek medical care. So why is telemedicine a good idea?

Easy Access

Nearly everyone these days has a mobile phone and thus telemedicine is more accessible than ever before. Telemedicine allows your students to seek medical care from the comfort of home without the need to find a provider, go to the office, wait in the waiting room and be seen. With most telemedicine companies, students can open the app, register and speak with a medical professional over the phone or via a video chat. 

Cost

Telemedicine services, especially in the USA, are a much cheaper solution than a student going to an urgent care clinic or emergency room. Most plans will have higher co-pays for in-person visits, whereas telemedicine services tend to have very low copays, or none at all. 

Language

Most telemedicine providers tend to offer a range of languages with their service, with English and Spanish the two most common. Depending on the provider, they may also have other languages on hand or can get an interpreter on the line. This can make seeking medical care that much easier if treatment can be sought in the students’ mother tongue.

Lower Claim Costs

Of course the benefits for your students to be able to seek medical care remotely are huge, but there are also benefits to your plan as a whole when incorporating a telemedicine service into your plan. Doctors are not typically available on a walk-in basis, so if a student needs to be seen right away, they would typically only be able to go to an emergency room or urgent care center. The average cost of an urgent care visit in the USA can range from $200 up to $500, and an emergency room visit typically starts at $500 to $1,000 and goes up from there based on treatment. Telemedicine offers a convenient way to be seen right away and at the same time avoid many of these expensive costs. 

An average telemedicine visit will cost anything from $30 up to $75 per visit – and when integrated into your insurance plan the average cost can be reduced substantially more. So you have the initial cost saving on your plan, if students opt to seek medical care from a telemedicine provider first, and when multiplied out over the overall student body, the savings can be quite substantial.

Telemedicine Drawbacks

Telemedicine cannot solve everything, so there are obvious drawbacks and limitations when it comes to telemedicine. With the remote nature of the service, only basic medical care can be sought via this method, so it’s a great way to triage medical conditions. A quick call to the telemedicine provider can put a student’s mind at ease and get them the prescription they need. However, for more complex medical needs or emergency situations, a telemedicine provider could not help. 

The other main drawback is there is the potential for misdiagnosis, as the doctor cannot perform a physical exam as the only information they will get is what the student states as the issue and what can be seen via video camera. This could potentially lead to problems further down the road with further treatment needed.

Telemedicine: or

For basic medical care, and to give students a quick and easy way to seek medical care, telemedicine services are an excellent addition to any insurance plan. It has the potential to greatly reduce claim costs, especially if your plan is suffering from lots of smaller urgent care or emergency room visits that are adding up, as many of those could have been handled by a telemedicine provider for a fraction of the cost. Included as part of a comprehensive international student insurance plan, it should only enhance the service and benefits you are providing to your students. 

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