Foreign students win insurance choice

April 7, 2010, 1:04 a.m.

International students now have the option to waive Stanford’s Cardinal Care health insurance policy, Vaden Health Center announced Monday, detailing a process for exceptions on its Web site.

Vaden backpedaled on the compulsory care requirement for international students announced in February after students cried foul at the mandate, calling it “discriminatory” and mounting an aggressive lobbying effort to get Vaden to consider allowing exceptions. Stanford’s changes to insurance rules in February obligated international students to purchase the University’s annual $3,000 care package, regardless of the quality of students’ existing foreign coverage plans. Domestic students retained the option to waive Cardinal Care.

“This is more about seeing the policy as discriminatory, less than about the practical reasoning behind it,” said Addy Satija, a doctoral student in electrical engineering and energy resources engineering who has been involved in negotiations with Vaden. “I think we’ve taken care of the practicality part.”

Currently, Cardinal Care covers about 80 percent of Stanford’s approximately 3,200 international students.

Under the revised policy, international students may now opt to keep their personal insurance plans by asking their insurance company to complete a form and submit it to Vaden’s insurance office for review. If a plan’s benefits meet criteria Stanford put forth on Monday, a student is expected to receive a waiver.

For international coverage plans to meet the University’s guidelines, they must have an annual deductible less than $1,000, provide for inpatient and outpatient medical and mental health care in the San Francisco Bay Area and the United States, cover prescription costs and include emergency visits and non-emergency care.

Health care policies are also required to have a lifetime aggregate maximum benefit of $2 million or a maximum per-condition, per-lifetime benefit of $500,000 and must cover pre-existing conditions or satisfy a waiting period requirement.

“With the exemption policy that we achieved, we now made sure that those who have adequate health insurance from their home country or are in any other arrangement will continue to be able to benefit from this,” said Fabian Sahl, a graduate student in international policy studies who was at the helm of a campaign to negotiate an exception policy with Vaden.

Ira Friedman, the director of Vaden Health Center, met with members of the international student community and Bechtel International Center to discuss an exemption plan.

“The students spent a lot of time organizing their thoughts into giving us some very specific suggestions,” Friedman said. “I thought it was a very cooperative, collaborative process that we engaged in, and the result is a good one.”

Vaden currently uses an automated form on Axess to waive Cardinal Care coverage for domestic students, and Friedman had initially hoped to institute a similar process for international care packages to reduce administrative overhead. However, the new case-by-case exemption policy that students pushed for has made online spot-checking impossible and must be done manually, he said.

“The administrative tasks for us are definitely growing, and now we’ve got this added feature of analyzing these requests for exceptions, so we may end up needing to add staff,” he said. “We’re trying to balance the added benefits of the case-by-case exceptions with the added cost and time.”

Friedman estimated that 70 to 75 percent of undergraduates from the United States — who number 6,390 — currently waive Cardinal Care coverage. Among domestic graduate students, about a quarter waive the University’s health coverage, Friedman said.

But there are still concerns from many quarters of the international community that Vaden’s exemption requirements are too stringent and will default many students into Cardinal Care because their policies cannot meet the test.

Andreas Zoellner, a first-year graduate student in aeronautics and astronautics, said that while the new exemption policy is a major victory for international students, the policy is not perfect.

“Some people I spoke to still don’t like the fact that one has to have mental health coverage, as they feel that this is less important for them than, e.g., coverage for dental or vision or a better coverage when traveling abroad,” Zoellner said. “On the other hand, it became clear to me that under-insurance of international students for mental health was a particular concern of Vaden, and they therefore didn’t relax that requirement.”

He said talks with Vaden will be ongoing to iron out any kinks in the updated care plan exceptions.

“One important point we made is that this new policy has to be monitored to make sure that it really addresses the problems that existed in the past with under-insured international students without burdening the students too much,” Zoellner said. “And Vaden agreed to do that.”

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