Establishing a Study Abroad Insurance Requirement

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Study Abroad Offices that are more independent may not have difficulty instituting an insurance requirement. Those offices that are less autonomous may need institutional support before implementing a requirement. In each situation, however, it is wise to seek input or counsel from others in the institution.

Process

Those parties that have an interest in the coverage, or who may serve as a resource to the effort include Health Services. Risk Management, institutional counsel, and students. Often, this exchange is handled through a committee.

The greatest exposure or concern of the committee is not individuals without insurance, but those that are relying on plans that do not properly meet the needs of a student outside his or her own country. Standard U.S. plans such as employer-sponsored plans often limit out of country coverage to a 30 or 60 day period, or will only provide coverage in case of an emergency. Individually purchased plans are generally even more restrictive. An institution’s standard student insurance plans can also present a problem. Some provide limited coverage intended to a supplement a U.S. based parent’s plan. This arrangement will often not cover evacuation, repatriation, or offer any assistance component.

Levels

Once a decision is made to implement an insurance requirement, the institution will need to establish what are the desired levels of coverage a participant must meet. Areas of coverage or service to be considered are:
  • Medical Insurance: The absolute minimum to consider is $50,000 and $100,00 or above is recommended.
  • Medical Evacuation Coverage: Be careful not to rely on standards common to those established for international students in the United States. These are inadequate for North Americans abroad. $25,000 should be a minimum and it should not be very costly to extend this to $50,000 - $100,000.
  • Repatriation Coverage: $15,000 is usually a commonly accepted amount.
  • Assistance Component. An experienced assistance company is an excellent value for the student and the advisor. It can assist in trip prep & in the handling of situations that arise, emergency or otherwise. Companies are also adding new services to the traditional assistance function, including political evacuation or coverages for natural disasters.
Additional Features/Services: New features or benefits that are being developed with study abroad plans are web services, some pre-ex coverages, family emergency airfare and limited home country coverage.

Administering the Requirement

It is generally recommended that the insurance be offered on a blanket basis  - this ensures the students have adequate coverage and provides you some input or control in an emergency. There are however some programs want to permit students to waive out of the insurance if they have other coverage. The level of enforcement the institution desires will determine whether certification of coverage is completed by the student, the company, or a department within the institution after a review of the insurance documents. The certification is usually incorporated into a waiver form. The waiver form is the most common tool used to establish proof of adequate coverage. The waiver form should include:

  1. Name and address of the student
  2. Information about the policy the student is offering as proof of coverage This includes company name, address and contact information: policy holder name: policy #: policy coverage period; Insured’s ID number
  3. Authorization for the institution to contact insurance company
  4. Affirmation that the policy provides the minimum standards established. This is usually set up by identifying the standards and requiring a yes or no response to each coverage point.
Certification. This section will require a signature to confirm the coverage has been reviewed and is acceptable. You may also wish a photocopy of an ID to be attached to the form.

Providing Insurance Options

Some institutions will simply provide information on a variety of plans. These plans will often be made available at a display rack within the study abroad office. The decision not to endorse a particular plan is usually an effort to distance the institution from the purchasing process. Interestingly, there has been discussion that by simply offering information in this manner, that the institution has become a party in this offering. This exposure could present more risk than taking an active role in providing insurance alternatives. It is suggested that the advice of the institution’s counsel be sought in this matter.

Should it be decided that providing a plan is the best option, there are four basic alternatives:

  1. Utilize a qualified existing student insurance plan that has medical evacuation or repatriation coverage.
  2. Enriching an existing student insurance plan that may lack coverages such as evacuation, or repatriation by adding just that coverage. This can be purchased on a blanket basis or though the ISIC card.
  3. Establishing an endorsed separate study abroad insurance program.
  4. “Piggybacking” an international students plan. Since this group’s needs are similar, this may be an easy solution.

As a final note, students should maintain their U.S. coverage while abroad. Conditions that are established, or begin while abroad may be considered pre-existing upon re-enrollment with the U.S. plan.

International Association of Student Insurance Services - IASIS
Compass Benefits is the endorsed North American Broker for IASIS, the non-profit insurance & Educational Travel Confederation.