The study, done as trustees consider possible changes to the way JSU provides on-campus health care, offers a new look at the health care situation for the college’s 9,500 students. Before the study, JSU officials said they believed as much as 50 percent of the student body was uninsured.
Last year, the university hired the firm Lassiter & Associates to survey students, faculty and staff about health care on campus. Of the roughly 2,100 students who responded to the survey, nearly 45 percent said they were covered by Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Alabama. Around 20 percent said they were covered by various smaller insurers.
More than 5 percent said they were covered by PEEHIP, the insurance program for teachers and other state employees. Nearly as many were on Medicaid. Twenty percent had no insurance at all.
Around 240 faculty members and more than 300 members of staff were also surveyed, but the report doesn’t include data about their insurance coverage.
The institution’s board of trustees has been considering changes to the its student health care system for two years. At a meeting Monday, trustees appointed a committee to review the findings of the survey. Based on the results, the committee is expected to make a recommendation to the board in April, said board member Randy Owen, who nominated the committee’s members.
“We want to improve the student health system on campus,” said board member Thomas Dedrick, who was appointed to the committee. “And we want to do it in a way that is as cost-effective as possible.”
Including Dedrick, the committee is comprised of three board members and three university employees, including Amanda Bonds, who directs JSU’s Student Health Center, which also cares for the institution’s faculty members. No students were on the list of committee members provided to The Star at the meeting. Asked later about the lack of student representation, Owen said he planned to have next year’s student government president participate. The election for that office, however, isn’t scheduled until March.
JSU officials are considering changing from a health-care plan funded by the university to one funded directly by students through fees or through billing students’ insurance companies, board members said Monday. A fourth op-tion would combine billing insurance and fees to cover the cost of care.
The university pays for its Student Health Center through the institution’s general fund. It costs the institution approximately $257,000 each year to operate the center.
The center is available to students free of charge for regular doctor visits. It offers immunizations, some health screenings and some women’s health-care services for a small fee.
In addition to polling students plus faculty and staff members, JSU studied the health-care systems at 10 other regional universities in the Southeast. Compared to the other schools, JSU’s center is much less frequently used by its students, is smaller and has a smaller budget. JSU’s center is open more hours per week than many of the other schools and makes doctors and nurse practitioners available more often.
JSU’s system has been in place for about four decades and hasn’t grown greatly since then. Officials want to im-prove the facility and offer more services to students. Changing the billing system may enable the university to do that, officials have said.
The current system makes the health care center available to all students, even those without insurance. If the institu-tion begins billing for medical costs, some fear uninsured students will be left without care.
To address that concern, Student Government Association President Bryant Whaley asked the board to consider a health-care payment plan that would bill faculty, who are more likely to have insurance, and charge students fees because they are less likely to have insurance.
Whaley said students don’t want to see the university charge them for health care. The students, he said, would feel like they’re having a free and necessary service taken away.
Of the 10 other schools JSU studied, only one bills patients’ insurance companies, though two others are moving to a system that will bill students’ insurance.
Billing insurance companies would allow the institution to pay for the bulk of student health services without taking a great deal of money from students, or from the university’s general fund. Instead, student health care would pri-marily be paid for by insurance companies, said board member Randy Jones, who also was appointed to the committee.
But Jones stressed that the committee has not made a determination. According to Jones, it will be very open to each of the options. The overarching aim, he said, is to improve student health care.
“We’re the only school out of eleven schools that doesn’t charge anything,” Jones said. “At the end of the day we may come back and say, leave it like it is.”
Contact staff writer Laura Johnson at 256-235-3544.