Just What the Doctor Ordered
international student satisfied with insurance
September 15, 2004 10:00 AM
Sue Wang noticed her left ankle was starting to swell.
Two days before, the 29-year-old business graduate student from Taiwan twisted her ankle in the library as she ran to embrace a friend.
The persistent pain convinced her she needed to see a doctor so she went to the Student Health Service building where doctors wrapped her broken ankle.
Though SF State international students exude confidence and peace of mind due to the service they receive from their health care providers, most new foreign students on campus skip the health care system workshop provided by the Student Health Service, leading to unsettling circumstances and misunderstandings.
“I think that [Somerton] Student Insurance is pretty good,” said Kamal Harb, a Health Educator at Student Health Service. He said that Somerton, the health care broker that provides insurance to California State University students, international and domestic, covers “most things” required by the university.
Among them, SF State requires the coverage to include medical evacuation (to
At the beginning of every semester, Harb and another colleague conduct a two-hour long workshop on health education for international students.
The educators teach the students how to access health care in the United States, but of the 400 estimated new international students at SF State every semester, only 50 to 100 of them take advantage of the workshop.
International students who do not attend the workshop are often confused when they need to see a doctor.
“I was very surprised and upset when I saw bills coming in,” Wang said.
After her initial shock, she approached the Student Health Service again and asked the administrators many questions.
It turned out there was a misunderstanding. The administrators taught her how to file a claim, the bills stopped coming and Somerton Student Insurance took care of her.
“What happens is that they don’t know how the system works,” said Karen Flynn, cashier supervisor at the Student Health Service.
Because of cultural differences, international students make some initial mistakes when accessing health care. In some countries like China, students don’t ask their doctors questions because they “don’t want to cross the line,” Flynn said.
According to Flynn, international students are puzzled when they have to wait to see a doctor as the physicians attend the most urgent cases first. In their countries those students are attended by doctors soon.
“They almost laugh when I say that American students don’t know how [the process of getting health care] is done either,” Flynn said.
Seung Hwan Yoon from South Korea, recounted his first experience with American doctors earlier this year.
“I had a car accident in January as I headed to the [SFO] airport,” the 28-year-old computer science major said. He was in the back seat of a friend’s car when an automobile hit the trunk of the car, straining his lower back.
After seeing a chiropractor for three months, he noticed something wrong with his urine. He went to the Student Health Service and they helped him make an appointment with a specialist.
“It is OK,” Hwan said of the insurance he purchased. “I just want to know why they take so much time to find out what problem I have.”
Oliver Fitzgerald, of England, bought a health insurance policy at home. The 20-year-old American studies major said he paid only $750 for a year of coverage; other students paid $830 for a year from Somerton.
“My health is never a concern,” Fitzgerald said. “[Because] the insurance is there.”
In a recent marketing contest in Chicago, Somerton Student Insurance announced its plans of revamping its image and of expanding within the student market.
“There shouldn’t be any concern for international students,” said John Breckenridge, vice president of sales at Somerton. Within the CSU system, 2 percent of the domestic students bought the health care program from Somerton, whereas 75 percent of international students did so.
Meanwhile, international students enjoy the fact that they are covered by health insurance.
26-year-old Haili Wu, from China, said that her friends talk about health insurance.
“They say that if we don’t have health insurance we are putting ourselves in a kind of danger,” the Public Administration major said.
Sue Wang agreed. She looks at her injured ankle, and making an extraordinary effort to stand up on her crutches she said, “It must be very painful not to have health insurance.”
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