New health insurance model means lower premiums for students, scholars

Iowa State students and visiting scholars who qualify for the Student and Scholars Health Insurance Plan (SSHIP) will have more money in their pockets beginning this fall.

On Aug. 1 (with open enrollment starting July 1), students and visiting scholars at all participation levels will experience premium decreases. For example, single undergraduate students enrolled in the plan will pay approximately 11 percent less for monthly health insurance premiums versus last year. Visiting scholars with a spouse/dependent partner and at least two children will pocket a 57 percent monthly savings compared to a year ago. A detailed look at the premium changes is online. 

Why the savings?

The reduction in premiums stems from Iowa State’s decision to move SSHIP to a self-insured model. This means the university manages the risk of the program and is responsible for paying the claims generated by SSHIP members. Wellmark will serve as the third-party administrator, and will be responsible for claims processing. The change requires no additional ISU staff.

"The current program with Aetna is a fully insured arrangement where Aetna sets the price for the university, and the students and scholars pay that price in order to secure coverage," said Ed Holland, director of benefits. "Because Aetna was ultimately responsible for the risk of the program, Iowa State had much less control or input into the premium-setting process."

The change benefits students and visiting scholars with reduced premiums, but the new model also offers advantages to Iowa State as a whole.

"Because the university has more control over premium setting, we can ensure that the plan offers the best coverage possible for premiums that are focused on the interests of students and scholars," said Martino Harmon, senior vice president for student affairs. "The changes in administrative processes should provide better services, create staff efficiencies and offer a better experience for the students and visiting scholars."

Harmon added that the cost savings from the new model would help keep premiums low and provide the reserves required for a self-insured plan. In addition, Holland said Wellmark can secure better discounts with providers within the state.

Who participates?

Approximately 6,000 students and visiting scholars are enrolled in SSHIP. For some, participation is optional; for others it's not. The following groups must enroll in SSHIP or a similar health plan:

  • International students enrolled for at least one credit hour (except those enrolled exclusively in audit courses)
  • Visiting scholars and their dependents, unless they receive a waiver from university human resources

The remaining groups have the option of enrolling in SSHIP:

  • Undergraduate and graduate students without assistantships who are enrolled for at least five credit hours
  • Domestic graduate assistants with an appointment of one-quarter time or more for longer than three months
  • Students whose parents' health insurance plan may not be accepted in the state of Iowa
  • Students who may save money by participating in SSHIP instead of their parents' plan

More changes ahead?

Harmon said the university will continually seek improvements to SSHIP.

"We will monitor the impact of this positive change and also continue to engage when necessary to ensure that the needs of our students and visiting scholars are being met," he said.