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Bemidji State University: No health insurance, no classes

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Starting next semester, full-time students at Bemidji State University will need to have health insurance in order to register for classes.

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A school-provided policy was approved by BSU's Student Senate last spring in order to prevent students from having to choose between paying for a high health care bill or tuition.

Having health insurance is important, said Andy Bartlett, BSU's interim director of communications and marketing, because it offers students protection.

"If a student was enrolled in school and would happen to have some manner of catastrophic health situation, prolong sickness or accident, insurance would help the student not worry about paying a massive health care bill instead of tuition," Bartlett said. "It's beneficial to students."

While useful, insurance does not come free. The injury and sickness healthcare plan, underwritten by United Healthcare Insurance Company, costs a student about $1,148 annually (as of October 2011).

Initially, after BSU's Student Senate gave its stamp of approval for the health insurance enrollment policy, some student senators heard a backlash from students who opposed the health insurance mandate.

"In the beginning there was a lot of frustrations with it and a lot of confusion," said Amy Brown, co-chair of the BSU Student Senate university affairs committee. "Students didn't think they were informed enough about it. They didn't understand what it meant."

Now students appear to be more understanding of the enrollment policy, Brown added.

"More students are passing along the word that this might be a good idea for college students," she said. "They can go to health services now without having to worry about how to pay for it. They can still do their studies without having to take out another loan."

So far, fewer than 10 full-time BSU students have opted to use school-provided insurance.

Students who register for six or more on-campus credits will be asked if they have a health care policy. If they do, they will be asked to enter the policy name. If they don't, students will be notified they will automatically be enrolled in the endorsed health care plan adopted by the university.

At BSU, the Student Center for Health and Counseling will bill and submit charges for services provided. This means the university could end up paying more administrative expenses, especially if more students sign up for the school-required policy.

According to Keswic Joiner, MnSCU's director of risk management, MnSCU officials have not kept track of which universities and colleges have a policy like this because it's not something the system has encouraged.

"I would think right now it's because of the administration (costs) it would take to administer it," Joiner said. "We don't have resources to be able to administer and maintain that type of program."

Highlights of the coverage and services offered by UnitedHealthcare Student Resources include covered medical expenses payable to a maximum benefit of $100,000 per injury or sickness; prescription drug benefits; emergency coverage for students 100 miles or more away from their campus or home address; and an optional dental plan.

No benefits will be paid for treatments for acne, alcohol or drug addiction, learning disabilities, eye examinations, injuries caused by influence of any narcotic, injury sustained while participating in any interscholastic, intercollegiate or professional sport; routine newborn infant care, bungee jumping, sleep disorders or weight management, among others.

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