Tatyana Yatsenko | contributor
Most Pitt students are familiar with the University’s Student Health Center and have become comfortable with how easy it is to schedule an appointment and get a physical exam. For many students, the clinic made STD, urine and pregnancy tests fast, easy and confidential. Until this semester, students were able to come in without an insurance card and get attention, treatment and a prescription on a whim. There were no barriers to confidential, high-quality care. However, as of this semester, the Student Health Center has changed the billing policy for its services. Free check-ups, including UTI, STI, HIV and many more, are no longer free without insurance. In fact, the Health Center requires that students have the University’s student insurance or provide verification of a different insurance policy before being seen by a doctor or nurse.
The University cited the Affordable Care Act as grounds for this policy change, according to the Student Affairs website, which also details all of the services that the clinic provides. The Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, aims to lower the cost of health insurance and enroll low-income Americans in health insurance programs they couldn’t afford previously.
At Pitt, this policy change may at first seem like a barrier to treatment, as students may choose to forego checkups and treatment at the Student Health Center, which was free before. Others may reluctantly use their parents’ insurance policy, which will be billed for the appointment. The University of Pittsburgh, however, provides an affordable solution: students can purchase their own insurance policy, named the Panther Blue Plan.
The Panther Blue Plan is a stand-alone insurance plan that puts the student in control of his or her health; privacy is ensured as the student is the policy holder. (One can enroll through the my.pitt.edu resources webpage.) For students, the $250 deductible that would have to be paid at enrollment is waived when the student pays the $90 Health Fee on the semester bill, meaning students only have to pay for doctor’s visits, treatments and prescriptions. According to the Summary of Benefits for the Panther Blue Plan, most treatments including physical exams, urine and STD/STI testing, mammograms, X-rays, and even many surgeries, are covered at 100 percent of the cost. Students enrolled in the plan (or any other health insurance plan) can visit the Student Health Center for free. Under Panther Blue, visits to any doctors within the UPMC network cost $25, and a visit to UrgentCare is $40 (ER is $75).
The policy change shows how the University supports the students’ best interests – it forces students to have some sort of health insurance, whether it be a parent’s plan or the Panther Blue Plan. By providing a student health plan, the University also makes it very affordable to receive comprehensive and quality medical care at one of the country’s best medical centers, UPMC. Since there is no deductible and visits to the Student Health Center are free, many low-income students can continue to budget their finances as before, while now being enrolled in a health insurance plan that can protect them from hefty medical bills in the chance they get sick.
While the policy change may seem like a great idea since it forces students to have health insurance before using the free services at the Student Health Center, it does have some downsides. Primarily, it limits low-income students from receiving immediate, unplanned medical care and forces students to navigate the maze of health care policy on their own. In addition, some students will choose to use their parents’ insurance policy when going in for an appointment at the health center. While their confidentiality is ensured by the doctors there, the students’ insurance will receive a record of the appointment and treatment, which is accessible to the policyholder – oftentimes the student’s parent. The record could provide details like date, hospital, doctor and the name of the procedure, which could be easily accessed by the policy holder. This compromises the student’s confidentiality since private health information can be released to the parent.
For students worried about confidentiality from their parents, the Student Health Plan is the way to go. There is no up-front cost for UPMC services, and privacy from parents is guaranteed because any bills would be under the student’s name, not their parents’ names. In an emergency, the Panther Blue Plan is much, much better than having no insurance. Students who plan on using their parents’ insurance should know that their health visit information may be accessible to the policy holder (but the degree of detail depends on the insurance company). If this puts one’s safety at risk, they should consider the student health plan instead.
If a student needs immediate, confidential medical care for sexual health but does not yet have insurance, they can visit the Allegheny County Health Department STD Clinic on 3441 Forbes Avenue, or call (412) 578-8062 for an appointment or to inquire about walk-in hours.
*Photo by Michael G. White. | Photo from Creative Commons.
Tatyana is a senior bioengineering student. She enjoys sports like snowboarding and tennis and spends her time trying to learn more about the world from a scientific and humanitarian perspective. She also loves puppies and Chipotle.
Check out more from December 2015 issue here.