Provide more insurance options and health care education for international students

Hairuo Yi

As an international student who has never gotten American health insurance before this year, I was confused about purchasing the required health insurance for F-1 and J-1 visa holding students staying in the U.S. The only guidance I’ve received about the U.S. health care system was a 10-minute video in my international student orientation modules, which included no specifics about the UT student insurance policy that all international students are enrolled in.

I was automatically signed up to pay for the $2,957 minimum per year student insurance recommended by the International Student and Scholar Services. This is in addition to many other international student fees like a mandatory $125 ISSS advising fee per semester and a $96 Student Evacuation & Repatriation insurance fee I have to pay every year in case I die. 

However, even after purchasing this pricey policy, I was still uninformed about how these plans actually worked and wasn’t given a choice or information about the set requirements to purchase another plan.

UT needs to provide more insurance options and educational resources about American health care for international students.

The culture of having to purchase without knowing exactly what the plan entails is common among international students at UT, with over 20 posts about insurance-related questions in the official International Student Facebook page just from this year alone. 

Coming to the U.S. and facing a new health care system is a struggle for many students, including Aída Fica, an environmental engineering graduate student from Chile.

“Public insurance (in Chile) was not based on your nationalities but your economic condition,” Fica said. “My experience in buying (U.S.) insurance was very confusing.”

Fica said though her department provided her with insurance, she didn’t know if the department insurance could waive the required student insurance. To waive the required student insurance, Fica had to meet two requirements, and there was no guarantee of acceptance even if those requirements were met.

Fica had to purchase the automatic student insurance to enroll in her classes but was refunded once she had spoken to an adviser. 

Other students were not so fortunate in getting guidance from ISSS. 

“I’ve been employed as a TA in past semesters and every semester we also get the same insurance from the international office,” said Guillermo Dominguez, a public affairs graduate student. “My issue was for this semester when I paid my tuition, the bill was zero, and so I thought that my insurance had been waived because of that and paid my zero dollars. A couple months after I got a bill of $1,300 that wasn’t stated at first.”

Dominguez wasn’t able to get an appointment with an adviser until two months after he received this insurance charge, and by then, the deadline had passed and the advisers couldn’t do anything about it.

“The University also offers education to international students and scholars about the U.S. health care system, the student health insurance policy, and how to obtain medical services,” Margaret Luévano, director of International Student and Scholar Services, said in an email. “This education is provided at both new student orientation and at information sessions offered regularly for all students throughout the school year. We encourage students who have further questions to reach out to a Support Services adviser.”

However, in reality, the modules at orientation don’t provide clarifying information, these information sessions are not common and advising appointments are hard to come by. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic and economic instability, UT needs to support its international students with more health care options and resources.

Yi is a psychology freshman from Lubbock, Texas.