Big changes in store for Stanford student healthcare plans

Vaden Director Dr. Ira Friedman says undergraduate and graduate students should start studying now the major changes being made to the university's healthcare options. The changes will become effective Sept. 1.

A new dependent healthcare option is among the big changes in store for the university's health plan offerings for undergraduate and graduate students.

The extensive changes, which go into effect in September, reflect both the university's commitment to offering Stanford students quality healthcare at an affordable price and the difficulties of doing so in the current complex healthcare environment, according to Dr. Ira Friedman, director of Vaden Health Center.

"I think these changes will meet students' needs for access to quality insurance coverage," Friedman said. "They tackle the cost of care and access at the same time, which is a challenge."

The new dependent healthcare option in particular answers a long-term need among graduate students with families, according to Friedman. In 2006, the university ceased offering dependent healthcare coverage because it had become unaffordable. Even with a university subsidy, most graduate student families found the cost of dependent healthcare for spouses or domestic partners and children exceeded their budgets.

To make the plan affordable, the university will be implementing enrollment restrictions designed to keep the number of participants predictable and stable, thereby reducing the adverse selection that caused the previous plan to become unsustainable. After the enrollment period, participants will be able to add the plan only in the case of a major life change, such as the birth of a child. In addition, the university and the student insurance plan are contributing a subsidy. The new plan is also the result of more cost-effective pricing obtained from a new insurance carrier.

Other planned changes apply to Cardinal Care, the university's comprehensive student health insurance plan. Cardinal Care, available to both undergraduate and graduate students, covers such services as inpatient care, specialist consultations, pharmaceuticals and mental health and offers access to the Stanford Medical Center. (Cardinal Care is separate from and unrelated to the mandatory healthcare fee charged all students enrolled at the main campus for use of Vaden Health Center.)

Among the upcoming changes in Cardinal Care:

  • Coverage will be extended to 12 months for both undergraduate and graduate students, but payments will be spread equally over the three quarters students are generally on campus. The 12-month coverage will solve a problem for graduating seniors who have yet to obtain coverage from an employer and for undergraduates who could not obtain coverage for just the summer months.
  • Cardinal Care rates will drop 4 percent to $768 per quarter. But students may see an increase in their quarterly bills because the cost of the 12-month plan will be spread over three quarters.
  • All international students will be required to purchase Cardinal Care, eliminating the difficulties many with substandard coverage have encountered in the United States.
  • Health Net of California, which has a national provider network, will replace Aetna as the healthcare carrier.

According to Friedman, 12-month coverage is the standard among Stanford's peer institutions. The 12-month coverage and mandatory enrollment in Cardinal Care for international students were steps recommended by a recent task force concerned with student mental health and well-being.

Friedman said his office is making an early announcement of the changes to help students, parents and departments plan in advance. The coverage changes, he said, are complex and should be reviewed in detail by students.