Bowdoin announced plans this week to conduct a review of the way the student Health Center is structured.
In an email to students and employees on Monday, Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster wrote that the College is exploring the idea of outsourcing certain tasks to outside partners in light of the departure of Director of Health Services Sandra Hayes and the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
“Are there ways to provide students with greater access to medical specialists and improve the coordination of care between on- and off-campus providers?” Foster wrote. “Are there new ways to manage medical records or to make emergency services more readily available? What changes might we make to the Student Health Insurance Program in light of the Affordable Care Act?”
“This is an area that is changing in dramatic and rapid ways,” Foster said regarding health care in an interview with the Orient. “The whole landscape is shifting, not just nationally, but right in our own town. It seemed like the right time for us to look at what might be possible.”
The Health Center’s current director, Sandra Hayes, will leave at the end of the year.
Senior Associate Dean of Student Affairs Kim Pacelli will lead the review. To begin, she said, the College is reaching out to potential partners in the community.
“We’ve already been thinking about what partnerships, in theory, could look like,” said Pacelli. “Now, I think we need to actually sit down and think about the mechanics.”
Foster noted that Bowdoin already has partnerships with many health service providers in the area. Most of those are specialists who provide services not available on campus, like orthopedics or lab diagnostics.
The College hopes to gauge the interest of potential new partners and outline what its options are by April 1. Then, Foster said, there would be some student involvement.
“Our interests will continue to be that our students will continue to have the highest quality of care, and that there are not barriers, specifically financial barriers, that would prevent students from having access to care on campus,” said Foster.
Foster’s email laid out three options, two of which involved restructuring. One would involve staffing the entire Health Center with workers from an outside contractor. Another would keep existing medical staff, but outsource administrative tasks like billing and insurance. A third would keep the Health Center operating as it has in the past.
“Because our staff have a degree of specialization and expertise in what’s called college health, I would hope that, if we were to go with another provider, that provider would talk to the members of our staff about opportunities to staff the operation,” Foster said.
Foster and Pacelli both emphasized that the College is only at the beginning of the review process.
“Even though we can’t sit here today and say how it’s going to go, I think it’s important to say that we’re having these conversations,” said Foster.
Regardless, Foster said, “Change of some magnitude is coming.” “With everything that’s happening in the insurance arena, it’s hard to imagine we’re not going to have some type of change to the insurance, in terms of how things are done now,” he added.
When it comes to insurance, students are currently required to either buy insurance through Bowdoin’s plan or have insurance through another provider that meets Bowdoin’s standards. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) introduced new standards for college insurance plans.
“We already had a lot of the characteristics in place that are now required under the ACA,” said Pacelli, “but there are some things required now, like pre-existing conditions, dental, vision, where we’re waiting to see what we need to do.”
In an Orient survey this fall, the Health Center had an approval rating among students of 76 percent. That marked a rise from fall 2012, when its rating was 69 percent, the lowest of any office included in the survey.
Students appeared interested in reform possibilities. Chase Gladden ’17 said he had an on-campus injury and was “very pleasantly surprised with the Health Center.”
However, he said he wished they could help more when it came to coordinating with outside insurance providers and specialists.
“If hiring an outside agency would help with administrative duties, that would be good for campus,” said Gladden.
“I understand that this is a college, but at the same time, if we have to go to Mid Coast, we have to pay money to go do that ourselves, and the cost rises,” said Chase Savage ’16. “There are times where I won’t go, or I’ll say, ‘oh, it’s not that bad,’ because I don’t want to go to the hospital and I don’t want to have to pay that cost.”
Savage said that his support for a restructuring was contingent on easier access to treatment. “I actually would love if they partnered with an outside agency to staff the entire Health Center, if that would somehow make it easier to get some services,” he said. “But that being said, the biggest thing for me to look at is whether this will change tuition costs, and whether this will change the overall experience in the Health Center.”