PPOs Dominate in Risk Strategies’ National Health Benchmarking Survey of College and University Student Health Plan Offerings

Inaugural study finds 97% of institutions offer Preferred Provider Organization plans and increased use of telehealth, commitment to convenience, increasing efforts to improve plan value

BOSTON, December 13, 2021 -- A growing emphasis on mental health, expansion of telehealth and a need for greater value are key findings of the Annual Nationwide Student Health Benchmarking Survey. Conducted by the Student Health Division of the Risk Strategies Higher Education Practice, the independently developed and analyzed survey findings will establish and track national benchmarks year-over-year on college and university health plan features and emerging trends.

Marking its first year, the survey was conducted with 83 public and private colleges and universities nationwide, representing all regions of the country with institutions ranging in size from 2,500 to over 20,000 students.

Additional key findings include:

  • Academic institutions want plans to be affordable for all students. Costs per student for health plans remain more affordable than comparable group plans. Costs average between $2,000 to $2,900/year with copays and deductibles lower than most standard group plans. About 25% of plans did not increase costs in 2021. The increase in health insurance costs was 5% on a calculated average basis.
  • Mental health services are crucial, especially as COVID lingers. Virtually all (97%) plans covered behavioral health as part of the student health insurance plan. Most have no copay (42%) or a co-pay of $25 to $35 (35%) for doctor visits.
  • Telehealth grew popular during COVID and will remain a key benefit. Nearly all health plans (95%) include telemedicine visits.
  • Convenience is key for students. Most (87%) reporting schools have a student health center on campus, and the majority (87%) of these are open three to five days per week. They offer a broad range of services, with the most common nurse visits (94%) and primary care (90%).
  • There’s a commitment to good dental and vision health. Three out of five (60%) schools offer a dental plan, with most (84%) of these being voluntary. Similarly, three out of five (59%) schools offer a vision plan, with four out of five (80%) being voluntary.
  • Cost and value concern plan administrators. In planning for 2022, the two most common high- priority items for school administrators were managing student health costs (74%) and improving plan value (60%).

“Higher education marks a significant investment for students and their parents,” said Terry Lyons, Risk Strategies Higher Education Practice Leader. “Health insurance provides valuable protection and ensures students have affordable access to all the care needed in today’s college setting.”

Participation in School-Sponsored Plans Varies
Small schools, with an average enrollment of 1,250, have the highest percentage of students enrolled in the college or university-sponsored plan (40%). For medium to larger schools, enrollment ranges between 17% - 25%.

The dominant health plan enrollment process for eligible students in all segments is waiver/opt-out. A waiver shows that the student has insurance through some other source (e.g., parent’s insurance). For part-time and online learning students, waiver/opt-out is the enrollment process for at least half of those eligible.

All schools (100%) with fewer than 2,500 students and 95% of schools in the Northeast utilize waiver/opt-in enrollment for their undergraduate students.

Insights will help provide better health insurance programs for students
Under the Affordable Care Act, students can remain on their parents’ insurance until age 26. However, for many, obtaining coverages through their school provides a more targeted and cost-effective option. Mental health, physical therapy (for musculoskeletal injuries) and sexual health services are of interest to college students and are often not tailored to their unique needs under traditional health insurance programs.

“Finding out about student needs in a post-pandemic marketplace is vital for the nation’s 4,000 colleges and universities as well as the 19 million students they serve,” noted Terry Lyons, Managing Director of Risk Strategies Student Health Practice. “The goal of our benchmarking survey is to give academic institutions the insights needed to set students up for long-term success through the protection of their physical, mental and financial health.”

Additional information on the survey and key findings are here.

To learn more about Risk Strategies, please visit www.riskstrategies.com

About Risk Strategies

Risk Strategies is the 9th largest privately held US brokerage firm offering comprehensive risk management advice, insurance and reinsurance placement for property & casualty, employee benefits, private client services, as well as consulting services and financial & wealth solutions. With more than 30 specialty practices, Risk Strategies serves commercial companies, nonprofits, public entities, and individuals, and has access to all major insurance markets. Risk Strategies has over 100 offices including Boston, New York City, Chicago, Toronto, Montreal, Grand Cayman, Miami, Atlanta, Dallas, Nashville, Washington DC, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. RiskStrategies.com.

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