Students confused after University stops accepting Medicaid as waiver for Student Health Plan

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BYU-Idaho students signing up for registration were told they couldn’t use Medicaid as an acceptable alternative to the Student Health Plan.

“When my husband first told me about the school denying his initial waiver, which had his Idaho Medicaid information, I thought he misunderstood what the person at the Health Center told him,” said Jessica Whetten, whose husband studies software engineering. “I didn’t believe it. I was a bit livid.”

Students can no longer use Medicaid as an acceptable form of insurance when applying for a Student Health Plan Waiver. BYU-Idaho requires students to either have “adequate” health insurance coverage in the Rexburg area or participate in the Student Health Plan. In Idaho, 232,437 people, or 12.9% of the population were registered through Idaho’s Medicaid program during October.

The situation appears to change policies at BYU-Idaho and not other Church Education System Schools. BYU replied to questions on Twitter Thursday saying Medicaid will cover students’ health coverage requirements. BYU-Idaho had no comment on the changes and Public Affairs for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints referred all requests for comments back to BYU-Idaho University Relations.

Four students speaking on condition of anonymity told Scroll that when contacting the Student Health Center about the change, staff told them the Church Board of Education notified them they are no longer accepting Medicaid. Scroll contacted The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who referred Scroll to BYU-I University Relations.

Tuesday afternoon, Student Health Center staff told students, “We were told not to give a reason why.”

“I would like to understand why,” said Elias Gamez, a junior studying automotive engineering. “Medicaid is insurance for those who cannot afford it, so why deny them for a plan that does not cover what Medicaid does and I can choose my own doctor instead of going to the school?”

The Student Health Center and University Relations declined to comment while referring Scroll to documents published on the Student Health Center’s webpage.

The Student Health Plan provides a self-funded plan, not insurance. Organizations using self-funded plans typically assume the financial risk for providing health care benefits to its members who pay the fee. The university automatically enrolls all students in the Student Health Plan unless they submitted the waiver. Each semester the plan requires students to pay $536 per person per semester or $2,130 per family per semester.

In order to obtain a waiver for the Student Health Plan, students need insurance through a policy held by a parent, a group insurance plan provided by your employer or your spouse’s employer, Medicare and any commercial Affordable Care Act compliant health care plan valid in Rexburg.

“Your coverage must provide full medical care if you are living in the Rexburg area,” the waiver forum reads.

The lowest cost insurance plan listed on Your Idaho Health, Idaho’s open enrollment website, for a family of three costs $666 a month. The cost likely out of reach of students places tough choices on people like the Whettens and Gamezes.

“I’ll be doing some research the next few days for sure,” Whetten said. “I can’t justify throwing money away when we’re already covered by Medicaid.”

The change by the university comes as Idaho enters the 2020 Medicaid expansion passed by voters in Nov. 2018. The expansion expands Medicaid to individuals with an annual household income of up to 138% the federal poverty level. The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare estimates an additional 91,000 Idahoans are eligible for Medicaid because of the expansion.

“My wife works full time and I work part time, and we still cannot afford medical insurance without breaking the bank — literally,” Gamez said. “Now I qualify for it through Medicaid expansion, and the school changes the acceptance.”

Those above the 138% and less than 400% of the federal poverty level can enroll through Your Idaho Health and receive an advance tax credit, lowering the monthly premiums.

“We’ve been trying to get ahold of Medicaid to see if there’s an explanation they can give me, and if we have other options,” Whetten said. “We don’t make enough to qualify for the subsidy (receiving the advance tax credit).”

“I think, whatever your political stance is, welfare programs like Medicaid are for people like us students,” said Hayden Allen, a freshman studying political science. “To not be able to take advantage of programs designed for us is illogical.”