Student health plan to cover gynecological exams

BY AMY MATTSON | JUNE 11, 2009 7:33 AM

It may have been a Tuesday, but UI senior Miranda Welch still had something to celebrate. The University Student Health Insurance Plan will now increase its coverage to include gynecological testing. Welch, a volunteer at the Women’s Resource and Action Center, headed the policy proposal, getting local leaders and UI administrators on board.

“I was shocked,” she said on learning about the current plan’s lack of preventative care coverage. “Women who needed care weren’t getting it.”

Doctors recommend women over 21 years old and those who are sexually active — a demographic that includes most college-age females — get annual Pap smears. Now, they can.

Beginning this fall, the health plan will provide preventative care for women — including pelvic exams and Pap smears. Welch worked with graduate student Nicole Pearson, who studies public health. Pearson, who researched the policy and potential women’s health effects, stressed the importance of genealogical visits. Since the Pap smear was introduced, she said, cervical-cancer rates have drastically decreased.

“It’s an effective screening method for a disease that used to kill thousands of women,” she said.
She also noted the UI lags behind most schools in the region in providing such care.

“Seven out of the Big Ten universities have it,” she said. “So why don’t we?”

It’s because the current plan was intended for “accidents only,” said Richard Saunders, UI director of benefits and payroll. To keep costs low, the plan did not include routine physicals or immunizations.

The addition of gynecological coverage will increase the insurance premium, though Saunders said he did not know the dollar amount.

However, based upon her research, Pearson predicts projected costs won’t differ significantly from similar programs at other universities. And, Saunders said the added care was an important benefit to include. For the uninsured, a typical Pap smear and pelvic exam can cost up to $250.

But Welch said it’s not about numbers — “It’s about getting women to take care of themselves.”

Welch began the policy proposal after reviewing a the health plan booklet and considering the plan for herself. She brought up the absence of gynecological services to WRAC staff, who encouraged the volunteer to initiate a change.

“I was really apprehensive about it at first,” Welch admitted. “Everyone was.”

Welch and others at WRAC worried the project was more than they could handle.

“I think this really shows that students can make a difference,” said Kate Karacay, a coordinator at WRAC and graduate teaching assistant. Roughly 65 percent of students using the current plan are female. And policy costs aren’t expected to deter potential applicants. Beginning in 2008, all first-year undergraduate students were required to have proof of health-insurance coverage.

Those without coverage are automatically enrolled in the health plan, whose 2008 costs ran $113 per month.

The changes Welch initiated will become effective September 1, 2009. They will affect graduate and undergraduate students at both the UI and the University of Northern Iowa, who are enrolled in the health plan. WRAC will launch an awareness campaign this fall to alert women of the change.

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