This October 3, 2022, blog post "Outsourcing Campus Health Service Makes Sense For Several Reasons" is worth revisiting, especially with additional information about the trend in annual student health fees (additional content in italics). image from Freepik
The Urgent Care Association benchmarking report (2019) showed significant year-over-year growth in the number of centers nationally. That continues a trend that began in 2013. The primary reasons for that growth are convenience, affordability, and the number of patients who are unaffiliated with a primary care physician (PCP).
The number of urgent care facilities near college campuses is also growing. This makes sense. There has been a change in how students view healthcare when they are in college. It is now common for students to leave campus to be treated at a nearby urgent care facility for medical issues that the traditional campus health centers do not treat. They use their parent's health insurance or their own if their parent's plan is not portable or if the campus is too far from home. Sometimes students pay out of pocket for these services because these off-campus facilities are affordable.
So there has been a fundamental shift in behavior from one rooted in the long relationship between patient and PCP to one of convenience where seeing a doctor or nurse, any doctor or nurse, on short notice and is local is the student's preference.
However, there is an alternative model that keeps students on campus, is convenient, and affordable, and can provide similar services to an urgent care facility. By partnering with a regional medical service provider an appropriate hybrid can be formed. This model can operate financially similar to an urgent care resulting in a positive budgetary impact, be flat fee based and net neutral, or be offered at no cost to the student.
According to a recent article in the Commonwealth Journal, "Mandatory medical insurance and health service fees are common at colleges as a condition of enrollment, said Stephen Beckley, a Fort Collins, Colorado, health and benefits consultant to colleges. While the health fee can help reduce students’ insurance premiums, parents may feel as though they are paying double."
I can understand why parents feel this way. Since the students are required to have health insurance then their health insurance should be billed when they visit the campus health center. The bill will cover the cost to the college. There is no need for an added fee.
This alternative approach (privatizing campus healthcare) also removes the challenge from the college of finding qualified medical staff and tracking the appropriate certifications of that staff (mitigating risk). Those responsibilities currently likely fall on the college's Human Resources staff who are already dealing with critical issues such as employee retention, onboarding, recruitment, leave requests and so much more.
By retaining existing campus health center staff during the transition to a private provider (whenever possible), not rebranding the health center or advertising it as something different, the transition to an outsourced model can be seamless to the user.
In an employment environment where employee retention is essential, a campus health center operated in this way can also serve faculty and staff. A benefit that other employers may not be able to offer.
Finally, an outsourced campus health center can be scaled faster than a traditionally operated campus facility. Therefore, adding hours and days to the traditional schedule when an emergency or other situation arises is possible and can be done more quickly.
A recent 278% increase in the student health fee at Northwestern may be a sign of things to come. At schools that are looking to control costs to help keep tuition increases in check as a retention strategy, adding a student health fee or increasing the existing fee may be considered. There is another option, bill a patient's (student's) insurance when they receive services at the campus health center. We have insurance to cover medical costs. This approach aligns the cost of operating a campus health center with those that use that center. The billing revenue will cover the costs to the college and there will be no need for every student to pay an additional fee.
There are an increasing number of colleges and universities entering into partnerships with regional medical services providers to operate their campus health centers and the benefits outlined above are some of the reasons why. or even There is no doubt this trend will continue and become the accepted standard in years to come.