Gambling with your wallet, or your life

Raphael Forbes 

COPY EDITOR

During my second year of at Whittier College, in Turner Hall, I had a grand mal seizure, in which my eyes rolled up into my head and my whole body started shaking. I shook so much that I rolled off the bed and collapsed on the floor, hitting my face on the side of the dresser on the way down, causing swelling in my face that lasted for a week. Having a seizure is not an experience easily describable. Coming out is like being blindfolded and pushed into a new world in which you don’t know where you are, who you are, or even when you are. 

Campus Security was there immediately, and I am forever grateful for the kindness they showed me, while I was terrified and completely disoriented waiting for the ambulance to take me over to Whittier Presbyterian. I was found to have sleep-deprivation-induced seizures, and my lack of sleep — like most students — was due to the midterms being around the corner. My case is rare, and most students will not experience a situation like this (though sleep is very important regardless). 

However, the most shocking aspect of this entire ordeal was the price: over $3,000 for the ambulance ride alone, while having the Whittier Health Insurance, according to my health bills! 

Whittier College offers a relatively comprehensive and average-priced health insurance policy that can cover most students’ needs at a price of $2,190 per annum according to the HuffPost and Whittier College Health Plan. You are automatically enrolled in the program if you are a full-time student or an international student, unless you have comparable insurance to waive it. Whittier’s Health  insurance  coverage is provided by United Healthcare, which has its own network of ambulances, hospitals, and primary care physicians. Whittier also has a full-time Licensed Vocational Nurse and full-time Registered Nurse, both of whom can aid in most day-to-day tasks, such as “flu shots and sports medical exams, and some triage,” according to the Whittier’s Student Health and  Wellness Center online page. 

You can easily make appointments with the staff, and, in urgent situations, you are more than welcome to come to the Health and Wellness Center during the hours of 8:30 a.m.  to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Thursday and Friday 8:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. — but they are closed during the lunch hours of 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. everyday.

One of the key problems of this system is that Whittier is not prepared for an urgent or emergency medical situation, especially after clinic hours.

However, this system is woefully inept in guaranteeing safety and medical assistance in the other 16 hours of the day, and on weekends. A 24-hour nursing hotline like the one offered at Whittier is just not going to cut it in terms of medical emergencies. Using the Whittier Health Insurance plan starts with a $150 copayment at an urgent care center in the Whittier Health Insurance network, and from there costs can dramatically increase. 

Whittier has a $250 deductible  — meaning that insurance only “kicks in” after $250 is spent, and then you are on the hook for 20 percent of the medical bills until you reach the out-of-pocket maximum of $6,850, after which time the health insurance will pay 100 percent of any remaining costs. $6,850 is a lot of money, especially to a student, but this is only the start. 

These expenses are accrued in an in-network hospital — what if you go to an out-of-network hospital? Well, get ready to pay even more, as you are then required to wait until you have reached a $600 deductible, and then you must pay 40 percent of medical bills until you reach the maximum of $15,000 out of pocket. And yet the health plan also stipulates that, using the Health and Wellness Center, 100 percent of copayments and treatment costs will be paid. This being the case, why are students not lining up around the door to take advantage of healthcare offered by the Health and Wellness Center? One answer may be the hours, and the other may be that having a R.N. and L.V.N. are great, but we need doctors and primary care physicians to cater to our individual needs, write prescriptions, and provide specialized treatments. 

One of the key problems of this system is that Whittier is not prepared for an urgent or emergency medical situation, especially after clinic hours. In life-threatening emergencies, one generally does and should call 911, in which the closest ambulance and fire department will arrive to take care of your needs and transport you to the closest hospital. This system, however, does not guarantee that you will be sent to an in-network hospital and does not even guarantee that your ambulance ride is provided by an in network crew. 

Our Whittier insurance says that “all services must be arranged and provided by United Healthcare Global; any services not arranged by United Healthcare Global will not be considered for payment.” Meaning that you may be required to pay whatever the cost of the ambulance ride, especially if it is out of network, footing you with a large and expensive bill according to the Washington Post. 

PBS did an article on the growing medical debt crisis, and showed that the largest percentage of those in medical debt were millennials. According to CNBC, medical debt is what two-thirds of Americans cite as the source of their financial ruin. The large medical debt coupled with the student loan crisis put us students in a very deep problem, seemingly right out of the gate after college. 

As Whittier College does not have a full-time doctor staff, nor a 24-hour on campus emergency medical staff, this system is dangerous and expensive for the student. If you have a life-threatening emergency medical situation, you will be paying, as our health insurance gives few options in this regard. The school’s health system is set up in such a way that urgent medical situations are not able to be taken care of on campus outside of clinic hours, life-threatening situations will cost you, and you are automatically enrolled in this program unless you are lucky enough to be able to enroll in your own insurance plan — if you even have one. 

If we were to have full-time on campus doctor or doctors or a 24-hour nursing triage system, a lot of the expensive urgent medical situations could be taken care of on campus where they are 100 percent covered by Whittier’s healthcare. If they are out of the hands of the doctor, the doctor would be able to make sure you have an ambulance ride within the school’s healthcare network, thus saving costs, time, and enabling safety. However, for life-threatening situations, get ready to pay as the school’s insurance has even fewer options, and you may not even have a choice in your emergency care. 

How can we change the system then? Until Whittier can and is able to create a system of a 24-hour on-campus urgent care or even clinical care, you are stuck with the plan that the school provides. Now, you must find a way to deal with the situation you are presented by Whittier’s policy and plan — to gamble with either your wallet, or your life?