International students will soon have cheaper health insurance options, Brinkley says

Health insurance costs increased by hundreds of dollars this fall for many international students across the state, but starting as soon as next semester, Wichita State’s international students may be able to opt out of the more expensive university policy.

International students are legally required to have health insurance. In May, the Student Insurance Advisory Committee (SIAC) updated Affordable Care Act compliance standards to say that insurance providers must be “authorized to do business in Kansas” and provide “coverage under a policy that has been filed and approved by the Kansas Insurance Department.”

The policy was adopted as a mandate by state universities, but Wichita State Student Body President Kenon Brinkley, who has been fighting against the change since it was announced, said he recently learned it was only a recommendation from SIAC.

“They made the decision kind of very quickly, and it was adopted by all the Regents schools as if it were mandated policy, but it’s not. It’s just recommended,” Brinkley said.

This compliance change was understood to have made it illegal for two popular insurance brokers — PSI and ISO — to sell cheap insurance plans to international students. The university-offered UnitedHealthcare Student Services plan has a $709 premium this school year — up from $625. Last year, PSI and ISO offered the same insurance plan for $309.

Sheryl Mckelvey, WSU’s representative on SIAC, abstained from the May vote. She confirmed this week that SIAC could not mandate that Kansas Board of Regents universities only accept insurance providers authorized to do business in the state.

“Each KBOR University can set up criteria for International student health insurance waivers,” Mckelvey wrote in an email.

Brinkley said WSU can disregard the updated standards without making a written policy change. It’s only a matter of enforcement.

At a meeting last week, representatives from the Student Government Association, Student Health Services, the International Education office, Financial Operations, the Graduate School, Student Affairs, and Administration and Finance, met to discuss WSU’s options.

Brinkley, who attended the meeting, said the unnamed committee decided to break with SIAC and allow WSU students to seek out policies from unlicensed insurance providers.

Director of International Education Vince Altum declined to confirm the committee’s decision and deferred to Camille Childers, director of Student Health Services, whose office, Altum said, has been in contact with KBOR. Childers did not respond to The Sunflower’s emails Wednesday.

“I can say that, once everything is settled and our ducks are in a row, we do plan to email all international students about the information we’ve learned,” Altum wrote in an email. “We know how important this issue is to international students so it’s been a top priority for us to look at.”

After SIAC’s recommendation in May, Brinkley said many international students were taken aback by the higher premiums they would be forced to pay. At the time, he said the change would negatively affect international student retention at WSU.

“Who’s going to stay here if insurance prices are going up every year and tuition is going up every year and they’re just here to get their damn degree?” Brinkley said. “When you go just up I-35 to Nebraska, they’re treating students a hell of a lot better there.”

PSI and ISO sell insurance plans that are hundreds of dollars cheaper than licensed companies’ plans by covering mandatory examinations without incidental coverage. Such unlicensed providers face no consequences for failing to make claims payments to students.

Brinkley said WSU international students’ favored insurance providers have a track record of operating on good faith and that students who cannot afford to pay the higher premiums should be allowed to take the risk.

Brinkley said he would not be surprised if other Regents schools join WSU in ditching the SIAC recommendation.

“I feel as though the other student body presidents, when we talk to them, might join me in expressing dissent in this decision,” Brinkley said.