With college health centers facing significant increases in the costs to provide health care services, as well as decreases in their funding sources, many health center administrators are having to think outside of the box for ways to extend budgets and maintain a high quality of care for their student patients. As a result, more college health center directors and their staffs are turning to commercial insurance plans.”Health centers at many public institutions used to get 100 percent of their funding from the state, but times are changing,” said Jennifer Lepus, director of university health services for the University of Maryland – Baltimore County.The UM-BC student health center is one of hundreds nationally that have struggled with state budget cutbacks. Health centers at impacted schools may still receive some funding by offering student health insurance plans, but reimbursements from those plans – which are provided by a handful of companies that contract with colleges to offer exclusive group rated coverage to students – are typically not enough to support a health center budget.”Our difficulty in offering only a group rated insurance program was that voluntary enrollment was not enough to sustain it,” said Western Kentucky University’s Health Services Director Libby Greaney. “So, WKU’s solution has been to accept commercial insurance plans, and file those claims.WKU began billing insurance companies in 2001, after student health fees were cut the previous year.”If your doctors are board-certified and credentialed, they can establish themselves as primary care physicians. This enables you to see community patients who are in-network with the plans that your health center accepts. If balanced properly, you can increase your service net and your revenue streams.”According to Greaney, more and more schools are realizing the benefits of opening their health centers up to commercial plans, and taking a similar approach to WKU’s.”People are beginning to see the need. They are talking about it and addressing it,” she said. “Those in college health who are resistant to the idea may be viewed as ‘old school’ if they do not embrace the concept.””More and more senior vice presidents at colleges are hearing about this approach, and are giving the directive to their health centers. I would encourage health center staff to be more in the driver’s seat.”But Greaney also recognizes a natural conundrum. While accepting commercial carriers can open up additional revenue streams for college health centers, it may also impact access to care. The reality is that not every student enrolls in school with insurance coverage. Students without coverage either go without care, or must pay out of pocket for medical costs that are growing more expensive each year.With the American College Health Association and some states calling for colleges and universities to provide health care coverage to all students, some schools are offering a menu of options.For example, Lepus and her staff at UM-BC have opted to accept both a student health plan and plans from commercial carriers.”If the goal is for every student to have coverage, we can achieve that by offering both options,” Lepus said. “The school plans are less expensive for people, but we have found that many young people today are covered by their parents’ insurance plans until they turn 23 years old. That means that a large number of students have coverage through private carriers, and it seems logical that when they come in to be seen, we can bill those insurance companies.”The University of Utah at Salt Lake City is another example of a health center that has found that billing to commercial insurance carriers as well as offering a traditional student insurance plan through the university is a win-win for both students and the health center.”By offering both options, we have a medium-sized pool of students who are required to come to us with their insurance, but we are also affordable and convenient for students with out of state insurance who will be paying out-of-network percentages or deductibles,” said Tiffany Smith, office manager/patient advocate for the University of Utah at Salt Lake City’s health center, which attracts about 7,000 students each year. “When we bill commercial insurance carriers, we make the process easier for our student patients, and this keeps them coming back to us in the future.”And when they come back, it means additional revenue for the health center.Although accepting commercial insurance carriers might seem overwhelming, Greaney offers a bit of advice to other health center directors who are considering it:”Start small, and utilize the resources that are available to you,” she said. “Namely, people who have gone through this either in college health or out in the community.”
A Health Savings Account or HSA is becoming an increasingly popular tool for many people to save money, reduce their annual tax burden, and pay for their medical expenses. Like with an IRA, individuals wishing to enroll in a HSA programs can deposit a maximum amount of money into their a HSAs each year and then invest that money into high interest-yielding vehicles, such as stocks and bonds.However, while HSAs do provide an excellent method of saving money and developing a strong savings account, there are some requirements that participants will have to be comfortable with in order to make the most out of their a HSA. For most people, HSAs are wise financial moves that will help to protect their money while also developing a nest egg to use for future medical expenses.Here are some things that everyone needs to think about when considering open a HSA:Healthy people will reap more advantagesHSAs can be used by anyone to pay for qualifying medical expenses and to grow wealth. However, in order to have a HSA, participants need to enroll in high deductible health insurance plans. As a result of these high deductible health insurance plans, participants will pay smaller premiums for their health insurance each month, but the plan deductible will be increased. In order for the health insurance provider to begin paying for qualifying medical expenses, participants’ annual deductibles need to be met first.When a HSA participant is healthy, he or she will have minimum annual health care expenses. However, if an individual has any health conditions that require attention and care, the individual will have to pay more out of pocket towards his or her health before the health insurance provider begins covering the medical costs.The deductible associated with a HSA can vary based on the particular plan that a participant chooses. Therefore, it is important that individuals select a plan with a deductible that they are comfortable paying. Then, as they contribute money into a HSA, those contributions can help pay for medical expenses until the deductible is met each year.Depending on a participants’ unique health situation, a HSA can still help them save money even if they do have ongoing health conditions that require attention because of the money participants save each month off of the cost of their premium payments. If they invest that monthly savings into high interest vehicles, they can increase the funds used to pay the deductible effortlessly.A Health Savings Account lets you save for future health care expensesThe money that individuals contribute to a HSA can be invested into any type of investment that the individual desires. In many cases, individuals choose to put their savings into high interest-yielding vehicles, such as stocks, CDs, or a money market account, which means that the funds will grow tax-free. These funds can be used in the future to pay for qualifying medical expenses. In essence, individuals who participate in a Health Savings Account are making wise financial choices that will benefit them down the road.However, if an individual has an accident and needs the funds from a Health Savings Account immediately, the individual will have to feel comfortable withdrawing the money and using it to pay for an incident. Individuals who have ongoing medical conditions may also have to feel comfortable using the money regularly to pay towards the health insurance deductible.Everyone considering enrolling in a Health Savings Account should also be aware that the funds they deposit into a Health Savings Account can be used to pay for anything – not just medical expenses. Therefore, a Health Savings Account participant can grow his or her savings tax-free for as long as he or she wants. The savings will only be taxed if they are withdrawn to pay for an non-qualifying expense.Increased control over health conditionAnother benefit of enrolling in a Health Savings Account is that participants will have increased control over how they spend their medical dollars. Funds from a Health Savings Account are limited and fully controlled by the account owner. Therefore, participants tend to pay close attention to which medical services they receive and what those prices are. As participants shop around for the best prices, they are in better control over their medical expenses and services.However, if an individual is prone to desiring many medical tests and services performed and would rather not think about the price of the service or the necessity of the service, the individual may end up paying more money than he or she would like because of the high deductible. Therefore, a Health Savings Account is often more desirable for individuals who are discriminatory when it comes to their health care expenses and services.For more information about establishing a Health Savings Account for 2010, individuals should speak with a qualified health insurance or Health Savings Account advisor, as it is important that participants are fully aware of the requirements and functions of a Health Savings Account. Health Savings Accounts are wise financial and health care options for many people and, if used optimally, can save participants thousands of dollars each year off the cost of health care expenses – while also helping them to grow their wealth.
When it comes to shortening life spans and allowing premature deaths, Texas represents the national example of what not to do. Although millions are barred from Medicaid, Texas planners are not working to cover more people. More than one-fourths of the state’s population has no Texas health insurance coverage.Texas continues to neglect higher numbers of uninsured residents than other states. It ranks 44th out of 50 states for health care spending per person, 49th for per capita Medicaid spending and dead last at 50th for mental health spending. Only the residents of two states (Mississippi and New Mexico) are less likely to get health insurance through employment than Texans are. It’s estimated that only 44 percent of Texans have access to coverage through an employer, which typically makes Texas health insurance plans more affordable.Gaps In Health Insurance For Texas Correlate With High Death RatesTexas may have a younger population than many states, but it still has more trouble with obesity and more people dying from diabetes and heart disease than some other states. At the other end of the spectrum (and the nation), only 10 percent of the people in Vermont need health insurance. With fewer insurance companies and major medical centers to confront, this little state has big ambitions. Even though Vermont’s residents fare better than Texans, leaders in Vermont have proposed one of the most comprehensive attempts to provide health care in the country.Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin says that health care is a right and we should stop treating it as a privilege for accumulating wealth. He maintains that access to medical treatment should not be restricted based on your age, your employment or your health.Speaking out on National Public Radio, Shumlin responded to critics who claim that providing health care can’t be done and has never been done with a reality check. “And I say, now, wait a minute, slow down. It’s actually being done by everybody else in the developed world except for us. And I see this as an economic development issue,” he counters.The governor is promoting an idea beyond federal health care reform that even exceeds what Massachusetts has accomplished. He sees a universal, single-payer system to protect all residents that might be funded through a payroll levy on employers and employees. To that end, bills have passed both state houses and Shumlin expects to sign such legislation into law by 2014.Shumlin believes that by breaking the link between employment and health insurance, they can ultimately create more jobs. Plus, Shumlin hopes a single-payer system can save Vermont and providers about 10 percent in administrative costs.Expanding Health Insurance For Texas Is Not The Only Way To Improve CareHealth and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius shares Shumlin’s vision. She says, “Everybody in America should have better health care and better costs.” Moving from expanding health insurance coverage access, Sebelius is now focusing on improving the quality of health care that’s available. Her goal is to cut down on preventable injuries in hospitals by 40 percent. She also hopes to reduce the need for people to return to the hospital after being released by 20 percent in three years. The benefit goes beyond patient needs.Sebelius estimates that such health care improvements could save Medicare about $50 billion over a decade. It’s easy to see how lowering spending on health care can translate into more coverage for more people. Sebelius reminds us that the number of people who “die from harm in hospitals is more than the number of people who die annually as a result of AIDS, breast cancer and car accidents combined.”A Texas Hospital Is Recognized For Upgrading CareFor the second time, Seton Medical Center has been singled out for improving the care it delivers. The State of Texas recognized Seton with a quality award for achieving near zero injuries while delivering babies. Then in May, Sebelius visited Seton saying, “I’m happy to shine a light on best practices as I travel across the country.”Sebelius also introduced Seton’s staff to her Partnership for Patients initiative. The goal of the initiative is to improve health care, including reducing the number of new infections and injuries like birth trauma. Sebelius visited Seton because it has succeeded at keeping patients from being injured and from becoming sicker while hospitalized. The staff has also improved how patients transition from the hospital to another type of care.Seton spokeswoman Adrienne Lallo explains, “We have dramatically reduced the rate of birth trauma and the incidents of hospital-occurring bed sores. The State of Texas recently gave us a quality award for being almost at zero in terms of injuries that occur during delivery.”There is a big difference in care among providers. One way to improve your own health care is to check the providers that your Texas health insurance covers. Being able to get care from the best providers can be just as important as the price you pay for premiums.