Pricey insurance slams int’l students

Josh Chilson

Josh Chilson

Chenchaiah Marella came to SDSU from India in 2005 to study food and bioprocesses engineering as a graduate student. His wife and their two children stayed behind. The reason? Marella can’t afford the cost of the health insurance required by the South Dakota Board of Regents for his family.

Foreign students already face a number of obvious challenges studying here at SDSU. But one problem that particularly affects those with children is the high insurance rate offered by the one insurance company required by the BOR.

“(Foreign students) are in a tough spot,” said Doug Wermedal, assistant dean of student affairs. “Foreign students who are alarmed with the cost are expressing a valid concern.”

The BOR made it a requirement for foreign students to have insurance after a few SDSU graduate students incurred medical expenses from a car accident years ago. The students did not have insurance, so Brookings County was forced to foot the bill.

Students over the age of 25 who come with dependents face the greatest insurance costs. In Marella’s case, he was not able to bring his family to South Dakota last summer because he could not afford the insurance.

Marella’s situation is generally the most extreme. Foreign students without dependents have much lower-priced insurance.

Vyku Ganesan, a graduate student from India who arrived in 2003, has no dependents and pays much less. However, she believes students like Marella are paying too much. “I feel it is very costly for them,” she said.

Foreign students only have one option to choose from for insurance.

The board of regents established a contract with Mega Life and Health Insurance Company to cover foreign students. Students must pay for the insurance for the bracket they fall into.

According to Wermedal, there would be little difference in the price of the insurance even if they had other options open to them. “Insurance prices from different companies will usually be similar,” he said. “They face the same problem of annual increases in costs as the rest of the U.S. health care system.”

But Marella has done personal research into insurance programs offered by Mega Life. He found that they have a plan called the International Community Service Health Insurance Program. If it were available for foreign students at SDSU, it would offer lower rates and increased coverage, he said.

Jim Shekleton, the regents’ general council, was unaware of any such plan. The BOR is in the second year of a two-year deal with Mega Life. “The board will look into other possible options when the current agreement expires,” he said.

Meanwhile foreign students at SDSU, including Marella, will have to continue to pay for insurance at the current rate.

He still hopes to be able to bring his family to America this summer.