Health insurance contract up for bids

Student health insurance will take on a new look next year, with a possible provider change and fee hike.

Portland State’s insurance contract is up for bid in a climate of increasing health costs, meaning the new contract will need to strike a balance between providing services and keeping health insurance affordable, Student Health and Counseling officials say.

Under the university’s current contract with Somerton Insurance, students with nine or more credits pay $28 per term for basic health insurance. Students in the five-to-eight credit range may choose to buy the health insurance as well.

SHAC Director Mary Beth Collins told members of the Student Health Advisory Board that PSU is in a weak bargaining position when shopping around for economical insurance.

Health insurance costs are rising dramatically due to industry pressures such as higher-technology diagnostic tools. Meanwhile, PSU has received hefty benefits for the coverage it has bought.

"We’re paying out 167 percent of what we’re paying in," Collins said.

That kind of statistic can dampen potential bidders’ enthusiasm, meaning PSU may have a harder time making demands in insurance contract negotiations.

At sparsely attended forums last week, SHAC and Student Health Advisory Board representatives tried to convey to students that productive discussions of insurance benefits would focus on ways to cut costs.

Collins wanted students to be able to identify what services are essential and what services could be cut with the least impact.

Several highlighted how reasonable PSU insurance fees are compared to private sector options and noted that increasing the health fee could absorb some of the rising costs.

SHAB member Kelly Thoen said she had paid her own health insurance for years. "When I found out how cheap insurance was from PSU, I did a little jig."

PSU is famous for offering health insurance inexpensively, said Somerton representative Christie Ziegler.

"There is nowhere else you could go in the country and collect $50,000 of insurance for $28 a quarter. It just doesn’t happen."

But raising the health fee substantially is an unpopular option with students who pay the mandatory fee but have insurance coverage from other providers, such as through parents and employers. Both Collins and Franz indicated that the Bernstine administration would not support a large increase in the student health fee.

"Typically, you’re going to get a better deal going with the same company and extending the program," Collins said.

Somerton currently provides insurance to Western, Eastern and Southern Oregon Universities and also has contracts with Lewis and Clark, Linfield and George Fox University.