Medical Debt: Helping Your International Students

September 2nd, 2020 by Yessica Pacheco

Healthcare became the topic of almost every conversation overnight thanks to the current pandemic. In the US, it brought up painful reminders about the health and safety of the international community and the healthcare system as a whole. 

As someone living in the US, medical debt is not uncommon. In fact, according to a study done by Health Affairs in 2018, one in six people in the US have past-due medical bills. Imagine now if one of your international students, that may not speak English fluently, came to you with astronomical medical bills. Unpaid medical bills create a great deal of anxiety for anyone, especially when you’re not familiar with the medical system in a foreign country. The US healthcare system is very complex and very expensive. 

If your students are being contacted by hospitals or collections agencies, there are ways to help them and guide them. Here are some ways to deal with medical debt:

Gather the information

It might seem like detective work, but it’s important to cross all t’s and dot all i’s so you are able to advise your students correctly. Is your student insured? If so, did they file a claim with their insurance company? Are the bills they are receiving their out-of-pocket expenses or have the claims not been processed yet? Were claims denied? 

If an international student is uninsured, you’ll want to gather all of the bills that they’ve incurred and the contact information for all providers. Gathering all of the information will help your student with the next step. 

Options Available

Many hospitals and providers in the United States have a financial assistance policy or charity care policy in place. In fact, by law, nonprofit hospitals are required to have these assistance policies. Contact the billing office at these places and inquire about possible options:

  • The provider might agree to reduce the bill
  • The provider might offer a payment plan 
  • The provider could forgive the entirety of the debt if the student is able to provide proof that they are not able to pay for their medical expenses

Persistence is the name of the game. You or your student should open a channel of communication between you and the provider. Explain the situation, use words like “financial hardship”, “no sources of income”, and listen to the options they give you.

The Negotiation Phase

Much like a realtor does when helping you purchase a house, you can also negotiate medical bills. To our surprise, not many people know this. If your student is uninsured, a hospital will charge him or her based on their chargemaster rate, or the full sticker price if you will. It’s important to do some research and find out how much the hospital would bill an insurance company, Medicaid or Medicare. Insurance companies remind their clients often to use their contracted providers and there is a reason for it. They have already negotiated how much a hospital can charge their members. 

Useful Resources

Like the insurance company, when you or your student are trying to negotiate medical debt, ask for the lower price. You might find the Healthcare Bluebook helpful as it provides fair pricing for medical procedures. This will give you an idea on what pricing you can ask for.

Another useful resource once you or your student have exhausted all negotiations with the hospital is to bring in an expert. The National Foundation for Credit Counseling can pair you with a credit counselor and help you navigate medical debt with a medical provider or a collections agency. They offer assistance in English and Spanish which might be useful for many international students. 

When it comes to tackling medical debt, your international student is not alone. You can refer them to our student blog on How to Deal with Medical Debt in the US for more information. We also offer many free resources for you and your international community like our educational videos about the intricacies of the US healthcare system available in eight different languages.  

Help your Students Navigate the US Healthcare System During COVID-19

August 5th, 2020 by Sally McLeod

As you and your students prepare for a fall unlike any other, we are here to offer continued support and be a resource for your students in times of need. International Student Insurance will be hosting a live webinar event to provide your students with detailed information on Navigating the US Healthcare System During COVID-19.  

When: Wednesday, August 19th

Time: 10am Eastern

Where: YouTubeLive

We invite your students to join insurance expert, Sally McLeod, who will provide a breakdown of the US Healthcare system, and help your students understand the importance of choosing a comprehensive insurance plan that works well for them and their school, while navigating a global pandemic. Sally will provide information to help those gain a better understanding of insurance terminology and common benefits and exclusions to be on the lookout for. Your students will be equipped with information on where to go, how and when to seek treatment, and have all their questions answered. 

We hope to see your students there! 

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The Student Secure Plan – Relaunched on May 15, 2020

June 1st, 2020 by Jennifer Frankel

We are happy to announce that the Student Secure plan has been relaunched on May 15, 2020, and is now available for purchase. Students can enroll individually, or this plan can be purchased as a group, and is designed with the unique needs of international students, scholars, and students on OPT. 

Available in four levels, Smart, Budget, Select and Elite, this plan allows students to enroll in the plan that meets both their needs and their budget. Benefits of this plan include:

  • Doctor visits
  • Hospitalization
  • Prescription medication
  • Maternity
  • Mental Health
  • Pre-existing Conditions
  • Optional Sports Coverage
  • COVID-19 covered the same as any other illness

UnitedHealthcare Network

As of April 1, 2020, all students will now have access to the UnitedHealthcare Network, one of the largest and well-recognized networks in the US. While it’s not required to go inside the network, these providers have agreed to accept direct payment and offer discounts for medical services.

Optional Sports Coverage

The plan has been enhanced to allow students the option to either include or exclude optional organized sports coverage. This means that students who need school sports can add this for an additional premium, giving those that don’t the option to save a bit of money.The sports option includes coverage for intercollegiate, interscholastic, intramural, and club sports on the Budget up to $3,000 per accident and on the Select/Elite levels up to $5,000 per accident.

Enroll Online

The plan can be purchased online with same day coverage. Rates start at just $31/month and students will have the option to pay in full or monthly. Students will get the policy documents immediately after purchase which will include the ID card, receipt and plan details.

If you are looking to receive the brochures in the mail, please contact us and let us know how many you’d like.

International Student Insurance Orientation Video

May 26th, 2020 by Jennifer Frankel

In the world of COVID-19, we expect that many orientations will be done virtually, and that much of the information presented to students will be in some sort of digital format. While this is a new format for many schools, the main advantage is that schools can make these videos available to engage students, and they can be recorded to review later. 

We all know that insurance and the US healthcare system is complicated, and when you add additional barriers such as language, a foreign healthcare system, and jargon, it makes seeking care that much harder! Because of this, we wanted to help support the schools and students we work closely with by developing an International Student Insurance Orientation Video.

This video will walk your students through the following topics:

  • Why students need health insurance in the US
  • What to expect when they seek medical care
  • Common benefits and exclusions on the Student Health plan
  • How to find a doctor, hospital and clinic
  • How to file and check the status of a claim

If you are looking for an individual insurance option for your international students, scholars, exchange students, language students, or those on OPT, then our Student Health plan may be a good option. Available in four levels, students can choose the plan that works best for them based on the benefits they need and the price they can afford – and they can have coverage for maternity, mental health, organized sports, and more.

If you are interested in speaking to a representative about our individual insurance plans or school resources, you can contact us directly at:

Toll Free: (877) 926-0042

International: +1 (904) 478-0002

Risk Management During COVID-19

May 15th, 2020 by Elaine Del Rossi

Risk Management: “a properly implemented holistic risk management strategy enables an organization to maintain tolerable uncertainty, drive profitability and growth, ensure legal and regulatory compliance, pursue social responsibility and reduce the cost of risk and the deterrent effect of hazard risk.”

As written in the Chronicle Review recently, if one were to invent a crisis uniquely and diabolically designed to undermine the foundations of traditional colleges and universities, it might look very much like the current global pandemic. 

Amid the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. colleges and universities are confronting unprecedented change. Many have transitioned to an almost-universal distance learning model, shifted to remote work for most employees and cancelled collegiate athletics events. Other significant developments include transition to pass/fail grading, waivers of standardized testing and systematic closures of residence halls. And many seniors and their families find themselves disappointed at the postponement or cancellation of commencement ceremonies. 

A recent URMIA article entitled “COVID-19 Conversations: Returning to Work and Reopening Campuses” stated how the global impact of COVID-19 has presented higher education with sudden and complex challenges. But this new frontier also presents opportunities for them to engage in innovative ways to provide quality education and research. The coronavirus crisis has – in what seems like an instant – upended much of modern life, and higher education has not been spared. Uncertainty and fear cloud the future. In the short term, students scramble to figure out their fall plans, the faculty faces hiring freezes, and administrators debate once-unimaginable options. The pandemic might also permanently change the character of higher learning in America’s culture, its role in society and in the economy. 

With all of these pressing and important issues in mind, we reached out to higher education Risk Managers with a straightforward question: “What are some of the most critical issues you are dealing with today regarding COVID-19?”

From the many responses, here are three that capture the challenges:

I can think of no worse planning environment than one in which you don’t have (and can’t have) a reasonable understanding of the underlying risk. In just the few months that we’ve been responding to COVID-19, the nature of the risk and the guidance as to how to respond to it has continued to evolve in an environment where we don’t yet have conclusive science. We were all initially told that casual contact posed little risk and now we are all wearing masks when we go to the grocery store and everywhere else. The result is that it is difficult to help clients plan when accurate advice currently has a shelf life of barely a week. These complications with ascertaining risks and developing mitigation strategies are compounded exponentially when considering international operations. Every country has a different approach and it has added whole new challenges such as assessing access to health care in locations that heretofore were not an issue at all.”

Right now, we have these issues that we are attempting to deal with across many facets of the university:

  • What will our ultimate acceptance yield be for new Freshman students? How many deposits have we expected vs what we will receive?
  • If the decision is to open the campus in the Fall, how do we propose to safely house students. Do we only bring in Freshman on campus and have a one student/one room strategy?
  • Schools will undoubtedly have to refund housing, meal and academic fees for the Spring-maybe Fall. Schools would have to charge less for online learning. Colleges that have lost enormous sums of money will be attempting to attract students from families who have lost income and savings. That does not seem like a recipe for success. 
  • What will be the post-pandemic effect on higher education? How will students/families behave? Will students want to return to college campuses? Are there courses and subjects for which distance learning can work-perhaps a hybrid model of in-person and online courses? These are some of the important issues that we have several high level task forces working on today. “
Spread of Covid-19 cases on campus – How to minimize the risk of spreading to others, and how to protect employees and students when they return to campus

  • Significant liability exposure if we choose to resume “normal” operations in the Fall. If we reopen, how to restrict student gatherings to continue some level of social distancing
  • We housed approximately 10,000 students on campus – the challenge of packing, storing and mailing student’s property left on campus
  • Significant revenue shortfall due to a diminished on-campus presence
  • Immediate impact of halting all study abroad and Summer programs
  • Impact on current research and future funding
  • Delayed construction projects (campus improvements)”

As McKinsey and Company has stated, crises can create paralysis and fear. Rigorous scenario planning can help leaders map the potential damage and devise ways to deal with it. Universities need to look beyond the immediate crisis to create effective long-term strategies both to get through the present and to safeguard their futures in the new normal that will follow.

All of this leads to the question: “What actions can colleges and universities begin to take now”? Risk and Insurance Magazine has suggested that even though many institutions hope to reopen their campuses for the Fall semester, they need to create contingency plans in case that does not happen. This includes investing in more robust IT infrastructure and professional development for faculty that support a higher quality online learning experience. Schools should also develop a recruiting strategy that will help them tap into that category of prospective students for whom virtual learning is a good fit. At the same time, they should develop a long-term plan to address the inequities that prevent some students from succeeding with online learning. They should also look for ways to monetize or sell properties that continue to sit idle on campus. The possibility of a “normal” Fall will be decided by how effectively we are able to control the virus-which right now does not seem to be possible. Risk Managers cannot predict the course of the virus, but they are planning their own responses to not just reopening in the Fall but to reopen successfully for all constituents. Whatever the outcome, Lynn Pasquerella, president of the AAC&U states it best: “We are likely to see a new world order of higher education-more global, more online, more focus on return on investment, and overall, more student-focused.”

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