‘Is this the only option?’: International students get confused with health insurance

Mengyuan Dong

Having health insurance is required for all international students, but finding an affordable plan can be stressful for some.

All international students at UT are automatically enrolled in a $2,504 health insurance plan every academic year, as required by the UT Board of Regents. International students may waive the insurance cost if they present an acceptable insurance plan, but accounting senior Lingyue Lu said it can be time-consuming to find a more affordable option.

“The UT health insurance is much more expensive than I thought,” Lu said. “And it feels like this is the only option for us because the insurance fee is automatically added to our tuition bill every semester.”

Linda Seefeldt, support services adviser for UT’s International Office, said UT only has one health insurance option for international students because UT’s major insurance provider, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas, does not offer additional plans for international students. The insurance plan includes coverage at school, throughout the U.S. and while traveling, as well as access to Academic Emergency Services, which helps students find healthcare when they are in a foreign country.

UT’s insurance plan is a Preferred Provider Option plan, or PPO plan, which means students under UT health have access to a broader range of health providers. Seefeldt said PPO plans are generally more expensive than other types of plans, as they allow people to visit all health care providers or specialists in the network without first getting a referral from the primary provider. 

Unlike international students, domestic students are not required to purchase UT health insurance. Seefeldt said health insurance for domestic students can be cheaper but also have shorter coverage dates, so the pricing works out to be roughly the same.

Health insurance plans for international students are required by most other universities in Texas, but the policies can vary. For example, at Texas State University, health insurance is not added to a student’s tuition bill.

International students who choose to use the insurance plan through the University are automatically charged for summer insurance. The charge is combined with their spring insurance on their spring tuition bill. Radio-television-film sophomore Xiaoyan Xie said she will not be staying in the U.S. next summer, but there’s no way to cancel the summer insurance.

“I really hope the summer insurance can be only charged to students who attend summer school or need to stay in the U.S. for some reasons,” Xie said. “It’s over $600, and I feel like it’s a waste of money if I’m going back home.”

Seefeldt said the policy is tied to students’ immigration statuses, so as long as their immigration documents are still valid they are required to be on health insurance, even if they spend the summer away from UT.

Communication studies senior Sun Young Park said she is willing to pay for UT’s health insurance plan, although she feels it is high-priced.

“It’s good for me to have it because I’m easily sick and go to the health center a lot,” Park said. “I don’t think it’s bad for international students to have a health insurance, but they just need to modify it and give us more options.”