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Study abroad requires new health care

Joe McMahon | Tuesday, September 1, 2009

While there is much debate about health care reform in town halls across the country, the Office of International Studies (OIS) has taken steps to insure full health care coverage for all program participants.

“We have a standardized system where we know what is covered everywhere,” OIS director Kathleen Opel said. “For us we think this is the safest and most comprehensive thing we can do to help our students abroad.”

All program participants are now required to have health insurance from HTH Worldwide, which “specializes in study abroad and international networks,” Opel said.

In the past, students were allowed to use their own policies.

Opel said HTH Worldwide provides comprehensive coverage, and in most instances students can go to the doctor without having to pay any additional fees.

“With [HTH Worldwide] there is no co-pay, and we have negotiated agreements so that in many of the places students don’t have to pay a thing,” she said. “The doctor just bills directly to HTH.”

HTH will provide coverage in the most extreme situations.

“With the policy we have now, we have emergency evacuation [and] repatriation of remains, if something terrible should happen,” Opel said.

According to Opel, the insurance premium is covered by raising the study abroad fee from $600 to $750. However, the increased fee also helps pay for rises in airline costs.

“What that covers is the increase in air fare that we’ve had and it includes insurance coverage for all students,” she said.

Opel said plans to extend universal coverage to all abroad participants have been in the works for some time.

“We’ve been looking to do this for over a year, starting with the fall students. But we announced it last year,” she said. “As we did our recruiting session last year, we announced to all students that, beginning with fall 2009, we would have insurance for everyone.”

HTH Worldwide coverage has proven valuable to students in the past. While spending last spring semester in Chile, senior Nellie Gotebeski contracted a mild strain of E. Coli.

“I actually got a strand of E. Coli and went into kidney failure, but luckily I purchased the insurance that Notre Dame had recommended,” Gotebeski said. “It actually covered everything. I was in the hospital for over a month.”

Gotebeski said she almost did not buy the insurance before she left, but it ended up saving her thousands of dollars and her mother was able to visit her.

OIS administrative assistant Paula Worhatch said the University was planning on mandating insurance before Gotebeski fell ill.

“Even prior to Nellie’s experience, OIS determined that many of the coverages offered through HTH Worldwide insurance could prove invaluable to our students and their families in certain situations and decided to provide HTH insurance to all-academic year, fall and spring semester international program participants,” she said.

Opel said when she first heard about Gotebeski’s illness, her first thoughts were hoping that she had the proper coverage.

“I feel great relief because I have worried many times,” she said. “When I first heard Nellie was sick, I thought, ‘I hope she has HTH,’ because we just don’t know what other insurance companies provide.”

Opel said in the past some students have relied on their own insurance policies or bought into national health insurance systems in the countries they visited.

However, Opel said in some cases countries will reject the policy, leaving students with expensive medical bills.

“A lot of countries won’t accept your home policy because they don’t have time to scour through and see what things are covered by which policies,” she said.

Opel added students are often traveling while abroad, and although they might have coverage in one country, they are often not covered when visiting others.

Ultimately, Opel said having everyone on the same coverage will help ensure the safety of all future study abroad participants.