BYU-I Jan. 2019

Students on campus on their way to the first devotional of winter semester in January at Brigham Young University-Idaho. BYU-Idaho has stopped accepting Medicaid insurance to waive the student health plan, and so far the university won’t say why.

Brigham Young University-Idaho has stopped accepting Medicaid insurance to waive the student health plan, and so far the university won't say why.

Some students at the university in Rexburg, which is affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, took to social media earlier this week after going to the Student Health Center and finding out that even if they have Medicaid coverage, they still would need to buy a student health plan, which cost $536 per semester for an individual and $2,130 for a family.

BYU-Idaho spokesman Brett Crandall declined to comment on the change when contacted by the Post Register and the Standard Journal. The student newspaper Scroll reported Wednesday that the health center and university public relations wouldn't comment to its reporter either and that as of Tuesday afternoon students contacting the Health Center were being told by staff that they had been instructed not to give a reason for the change.

Kaycee Edralin, a senior who along with her husband will be covered by Medicaid when Medicaid expansion takes effect on Jan. 1, 2020, said she and her husband will now have to get student health plans “for coverage we’re not going to be using.”

Edralin said she was surprised to find out this week that the university wouldn’t accept Medicaid — when she and her husband were given a waiver form last month, she said, they were told Medicaid would be accepted. BYU-Idaho uses a trimester system, where students are in classes for two trimesters and are off for one. Edralin said she and her husband will have to pay for a student plan even during the periods when they aren’t taking classes.

“They don’t allow a lapse in coverage the whole time you have continuing student status,” she said.

Some students said on social media and told Scroll that, when they contacted the Student Health Center initially, they were told the Church Board of Education told them to no longer accept Medicaid. However, an LDS Church spokesman referred the Post Register back to BYU-Idaho, and BYU-Provo said Tuesday that it would still take Medicaid as an acceptable substitute for a student health plan.

“This is official: There is no change (at BYU-Provo),” the university tweeted from its official account. “Medicaid and Medicare will continue to meet the health coverage requirement (at BYU) here in Provo.”

BYU-Provo declined to weigh in on the situation in Rexburg, telling people who responded to the tweet they should contact BYU-Idaho directly.

Mike, who asked to stay anonymous, is a young husband and student with one toddler and another baby on the way. Next year his small family will qualify for Medicaid, but knowing that the university won’t accept it is frustrating.

“I just do not think that it makes sense if you need to be on Medicaid,” Mike said. “The school insurance isn’t good anyway. It doesn’t really do anything for you. With Medicaid being better and free, I don’t understand what the school's issue is with having it.”

Most colleges and universities in the United States require students to have health insurance. Mike said he always figured it was required to make sure they were safe and covered if anything ever happened.

“The Medicaid is mostly important for [my wife] and the babies," he said. "Because out-of-pocket cost for birth can be, from what I understand, $5,000. To pay a fraction of that is really great.”

According to Norma Valdez, Madison Memorial Hospital's financial adviser, a vaginal birth can cost up to $7,500, a C-section is $9,000, and there is a healthy baby charge of $2,000. If the baby needs extra care that cost goes up. Valdez said with Medicaid the cost goes down depending on the program, but often it pays for everything.

"Regarding [the] BYUI Student Medicaid issue, we are in constant communication with BYUI on many topics," said Madison Memorial Marketing and Public Relations Director Doug McBride. "I do not recall any discussion for this issue specifically, but am perfectly confident that their decision was based on sound judgement."

According to the BYU-Idaho Student Health Plan for 2018-2019, non-student spouses must pay a deductible of $4,750 before maternity expenses will be covered. Mike's wife is not a student.

“It’s kind of frustrating,” Mike said. “We’ll be able to figure it out, but if you have to be on Medicaid it’s because you’re a student and poor.”

As of August, 232,437 Idahoans were enrolled in Medicaid, according to data from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The university's decision to stop accepting Medicaid comes just before an estimated 91,000 Idahoans will gain Medicaid coverage due to the ballot initiative voters approved in November 2018 expanding the program's coverage to everyone making up to 138 percent of the poverty level. Many BYU-Idaho students likely qualify for expanded Medicaid — statistical surveys routinely show Madison County as the poorest in Idaho due to the student population.

Even if they are forced to buy the student health plan, Medicaid-eligible students will still be able to receive Medicaid, said Niki Forbing-Orr, spokeswoman for the state Department of Health and Welfare. She said the student health insurance will become the primary payer and Medicaid would become the secondary payer. It would be up to the provider, she said, to coordinate benefits between the two.

Reporter Nathan Brown can be reached at 208-542-6757. Follow him on Twitter: @NateBrownNews.