Undergraduate health care financing at Washington State University will be reviewed this year by a university task force.
Possible outcomes include a hike in the annual fee students now pay to fund WSU’s student clinic, or a new system that could lower costs to students.
Faced with medical inflation and having to cover raises for university employees, administrators at WSU’s student health clinic asked last year that $2.50 be added to the $63.50 fee students pay each semester to finance the system. But rather than ask WSU’s board of regents to approve the hike immediately, WSU has decided to examine the issue.
K.J. “Gus” Kravas, vice provost for student affairs, is formulating the task force. The review will include an examination of how WSU’s peer schools finance undergraduate health care and alternative approaches to student fees.
WSU could reduce or abandon the student fee in favor of billing student-purchased heath insurance for part or all the cost of their care, said Kravas.
The University of California, Davis, went to such a system but abandoned it after a three years, said Tim Lewis, clinic administrator, when the task of dealing with hundreds of student insurance companies became overwhelming.
Last year, WSU’s student fee brought in approximately $1.8 million to the Health and Wellness Services, which operates at Pullman Memorial Hospital. With students paying for major medical equipment used in their care, that revenue has been sufficient.
The center’s budget effectively was reduced, however, by a raise lawmakers granted university employees. While salaries will go up 3 percent, the clinic didn’t see a corresponding increase in the student fee.
Bruce Wright, interim clinic director, expects inflationary costs will outpace fee revenue through the next five years. Either a fee hike or a new financing mechanism will have to be found.
Complicating the funding question is the prospect that Pullman Memorial Hospital will move off campus. WSU’s student clinic administrators hope to continue an arrangement with the hospital to use PMH equipment. But even if the clinic doesn’t purchase equipment when the hospital moves, the cost of running the service will increase, said Wright, because Health and Wellness Services will have to take over more of the building’s operating costs.
Also to be examined are the questions of whether spouses and children of WSU students should have access to the clinic and whether dental coverage should be added.
Another possible addition to costs, said Wright, could come with the increasing numbers of older students at WSU, who likely require more intensive care than the traditional college-aged student.
Since 1980, all public universities in Washington have operated clinics with a student fee.
WSU experimented four years ago with a one-time $8 fee students paid to the center on their first visit. Student visits dropped by 5,000 that year.
“The question is do you want to provide (health care) regardless of the ability to pay at the time, or go to a system of providing care to those who can afford it?” Lewis said.
“Our philosophy here is different than the managed care environment. Our philosophy is we want a lot of visits. We want (students) health to attend classes. If you are sick you don’t study.”
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.