School health insurance plan provider begins to see profit

After years of profit loss, the companies who provide Portland State students with insurance are having more success breaking even and making profits.


Providing student health insurance at Portland State has been a losing venture for insurance providers over the past few years, causing the university’s options for insurance to dwindle and the cost of plans to rise.


Insurance companies have had rocky experiences with PSU in the past, with the amount of money collected in premiums being much less than what has been paid out in claims.


Guaranteed Trust Life, Portland State’s insurance provider between 2003 and 2005, lost a total of $1,364,075 because of the amount they paid out on claims.


Because of GTL’s loss of money, it was difficult for PSU to attract offers from the other 15 or so insurance companies in the nation that write student insurance.


But according to the Mary Beth Collins, the interim director of Student Health and Counseling, that problem is changing.


“The company experience is much better off than it was,” she said.


Collins estimated that the current insurance company, Mega Life, is paying out about 70 percent of claims, which she says is about the same amount they need to pay out in order to at least break even.


Collins recalled Katy Somerton, president and founder of Somerton Student Insurance, telling her that the situation with the company now is good, but not great.


Three companies are involved in the insurance process at PSU. Mega Life directly oversees the entire process, AmeriBens handles claim payouts and Somerton Student Insurance is the agent of record who will bid for new companies to provide insurance to PSU students. The next bid will most likely take place this coming spring.


Collins hopes that the improvement that has already taken place will create further benefits down the road, such as landing a contract with more benefits for students.


Collins said that does not think that student health fee prices, which have risen over the past two years on both the required basic plan as well as the extended plan, will decrease.


“If it [health fees] would hold even for years, it would be like a decrease,” Collins said, adding that they are hoping to get more insurance benefits back in the contract instead of reducing prices.


Collins said she sees potential in the possibility of bidding for a new company to contract with because of the improvements made this year.


The health center administration will hold student forums to see how students feel about issues in the health center, when the Advisory Board meets in the spring about the bidding.


These forums will mostly deal with student suggestions of how to improve the health center and how they see it can benefit them more. Collins suggests that students with any direct complaints they have about their personal service at the health center should be taken to her.


Amid rumors of poor service and long waits to get into the center, some students say they have had experiences that have made them not want to continue service with the center.


Maeve Bartlett, a junior undergrad at PSU, suffers from severe migraine headaches, which are a reaction of blood vessels swelling in her neck, culminating in what she described as something similar to a mini-stroke.


After doctors at the health center prescribed Bartlett Midrin, a drug used to help both migraine and tension headaches, she later discovered that the she was not only allergic to the drug but that it could have even possibly killed her because of the kinds of migraines she has.


Although she holds no assumptions that any of the physicians at the center were purposely careless, Bartlett has since stopped going to the PSU health center and been prescribed other medication elsewhere, feeling that other medical services will be able to provide her with better care.


“I just felt that complaining would have been a waste of time,” Bartlett said, adding “it seemed evident they couldn’t give me what I needed, so I went somewhere that I found to be better.”


Collins said that unless students complain, issues cannot be dealt with. She also said that she feels that the service and quality of the physicians at the health center are quite good, noting that many could be paid a good amount more to do the same job, but work here because they like working with students.


Collins also said that the doctors generally bring all their diagnoses of patients to a group of physicians, making sure they agree that what they diagnosed was right. In addition, if there is some kind of question of the diagnosis, students will be sent to see another doctor.


“I will take any complaint to Mark Bajarek [the medical director at PSU] and he will deal with them accordingly,” Collins said. “I support the person whose view of the situation is accurate.”