University Health Services (UHS) recently updated the terms of its Student Health Plan (SHP), which cover referrals and various benefits, including temporarily increasing coverage for some services, especially those relating to COVID-19. These changes will apply to all students on the SHP.
Through June 1, the SHP will cover all hospitalizations relating to COVID-19 that fall within its network of healthcare providers. All COVID-19 related hospitalizations in healthcare providers outside of SHP’s network will be fully covered through June 4.
Also through June 4, the SHP will fully cover all expenses including and relating to COVID-19 testing, as well as expenses for telehealth or telemedicine, including both medical and behavioral health care, according to the UHS website.
Through July 4, “all telehealth/telemedicine, which includes all medical and behavioral health care, will be covered at 100 percent,” the policy notes. The plan will cover 80 percent of Out-of-Network Benefits; previously, it covered 70 percent. Through August 31, the SHP will not require UHS referrals for “off-campus medical care.”
In an email to The Daily Princetonian, Deputy University Spokesperson Michael Hotchkiss clarified that the “end dates” for these policies are subject to change.
“Given that the duration and severity of the pandemic was unknown when the policies were set, it was prudent to set end dates, with a plan to review as more information became available,” Hotchkiss wrote. “The end dates will be reviewed in mid-May.”
Lily Zhang ’22 said the changes increase the chances she would seek care if physically ill.
“These changes are reassuring, and I’d be more likely to go to a hospital if I were to be experiencing heavy physical symptoms,” she said.
Hotchkiss elaborated on why the University modified SHP policy during the pandemic.
“These enhancements to the Student Health Plan reflect the University’s commitment to promoting the health and wellbeing of our students, wherever they may be,” he wrote. “Specifically, the changes are intended to make it easier for individuals on the Student Health Plan to receive services during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.”
Hotchkiss added that on April 8, the changes “were also discussed with the Student Health Plan Advisory Council, which includes graduate and undergraduate student representation.” Consultation with the Advisory Council is standard procedure for SHP-related communications.
Despite an announcement being posted to the University’s COVID-19 web-page on April 1 and publicized on University social media accounts, several students on the SHP said that they were unaware of the changes and did not recall being directly informed.
Zihan Lin ’23, a student on the SHP, told the ‘Prince’ that he had “not received any updates regarding the student health plan through physical mail or email.” Zhang similarly described a lack of communication, saying that she would have wished to receive a direct notification from UHS. The ‘Prince’ confirmed directly with another student on the SHP that they did not receive a personalized email laying out the changes.
Regardless, students who spoke with the ‘Prince’ were grateful for the new policies.
“These changes are very considerate and proper in a time like this,” said Lin, who added, “I believe that there are others who will benefit immensely.”
Michael Kim ’23, who is still on campus, said these changes are especially beneficial since “it’s likely that the low income students in particular would be covered by the student health plan,” and these changes may alleviate healthcare costs during the pandemic.
However, an undergraduate student on the SHP still on campus, who spoke to the ‘Prince’ anonymously, said they were dissatisfied with how McCosh Health Services and UHS had responded when they were exhibiting possible COVID-19 symptoms.
Around early March, the student said they developed a cough and sore throat. Fearing they might have contracted COVID-19, the student called McCosh Health Services and was told to send an email with their concerns. The student said they never received a response.
The student speculated that their symptoms were the result of pollen allergies, as their symptoms disappeared after taking an allergy medication. The student was concerned, however, by what they perceived as a lack of action from UHS.
“I wouldn’t say that they’re not taking it seriously, but … it’s just the fact that when I called and said I’m scared, [a UHS employee] didn’t do anything to comfort me. She was just like, ‘Oh, I can’t do anything about it.’”
In a statement to the ‘Prince,’ Hotchkiss wrote that he could not comment on this specific case.
“We’re grateful this student is feeling better,” he wrote. “We can’t comment on any student’s individual situation.”
He outlined, however, the current protocols that UHS follows in administering care to patients the pandemic.
According to Hotchkiss, students on campus who face an urgent medical situation requiring immediate attention are advised to contact the UHS front desk at 609-258-3141 to be connected to an on-site provider.
Students can also find resources on the UHS website.
UHS has also set up “entirely new services rapidly to better serve the campus community, such as remote mental health consultations, the AskHealth@ email line, and Telemedicine visits,” he wrote.
The student who spoke with the ‘Prince’ also shared concerns about how they felt the University could better handle such a crisis in comparison to what is currently occurring, specifically referencing the decision in late March to cease the UHS overnight Infirmary Service.
“I just feel that in a time of crisis, you should have a doctor 24/7 waiting if anything bad happens,” the student said.
Hotchkiss explained the University is currently handling COVID-19 “based on guidance from health authorities and the best judgment of our campus medical professionals.”
UHS currently is capable of “testing students for COVID-19 on site at UHS, and providing appropriate guidance and treatment for those who are positive,” he wrote.
As outlined on the UHS website, if a student is determined to be in need of emergency medical attention outside of normal business hours, they will be transferred to the emergency department at the Penn Medicine/Princeton Medical Center for evaluation.
Through UHS, medical professionals check in daily with students who are undergoing self-isolation on campus, according to Hotchkiss.
UHS is “acting as the delegated public health authority for Princeton University students, faculty and staff, including monitoring quarantine and isolation orders, and performing contact tracing,” he wrote.
UHS continues to monitor students who have left campus and maintains “data regarding numbers of students tested, number positive, number negative, etc.”
Hotchkiss also spoke on UHS’s response to the rapidly evolving crisis.
“Agility has been necessary at UHS, as it has at every Princeton department that serves students,” he added.