UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A new collaboration between University Health Services (UHS), a unit of Penn State Student Affairs, and the University Park Undergraduate Association (UPUA) will financially provide for University Park undergraduate and graduate students with medical needs at University Park.
The UHS/UPUA Wellness Fund will cover expenses for health care services provided through UHS for students with insufficient or no medical insurance; students who have high co-pays or deductibles; or students who have a financial need.
According to fall 2020 and spring 2021 data from Student Care and Advocacy and UHS, 782 University Park students are considered uninsured because they are covered by an of out-of-state Medicaid plan; 1,333 were denied care due to expired insurance; and 475 had no active coverage. A total of 11,883 students didn’t provide ample information about their health insurance but were assumed to have lacked sufficient insurance.
UPUA Vice President Najee Rodriguez, who worked to establish the Wellness Fund, said the initiative will “close gaps of health inequity that permeate our student body.”
“This is a positive and tangible step forward on behalf of the UPUA and the University's administration to create change for the better,” Rodriguez said. “Students will no longer have to avoid their health due to worries about rent, food or tuition costs.”
Students in need may set up an appointment with a UHS case manager through myUHS or by calling UHS at 814-863-0774. The case manager will notify UHS Financial Services when a student opts to use the Wellness Fund, so they will not be charged for that visit.
Natahsha Baumgartner, student insurance advocate for UHS, said UHS staff is “often on the front lines” to help students when they realize they can’t afford medical care at UHS. Case managers seek solutions but often have difficulty finding alternative insurance options, she said.
“Our staff is excited to have this option to serve students who otherwise may go without getting the care they need,” Baumgartner said.
The coverage includes every billable service at UHS except for pharmacy charges, ambulance charges, lab work sent to Quest Diagnostics, no-show fees and referrals to external health care providers.
To celebrate the establishment of the fund, the two organizations will hold a launch party from 6-7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 15, in the HUB-Robeson Center 008 Lounge.
Rodriguez said his own experiences with poverty inspired him to help other students in need. During his first year at Penn State, he realized his insurance didn’t translate to UHS or Pennsylvania’s health care systems.
“It was extremely overwhelming,” Rodriguez said. “I ended up having to pay out-of-pocket costs, unknowingly at first, for my medical services.”
In September 2020, Rodriguez began a conversation with UHS about assisting students in similar situations, specifically hearing from minority groups about their struggles with health care. From speaking with the leaders of Latinx, Black and international communities at Penn State, Rodriguez learned more about health inequity; some students were not purchasing medical insurance to save money for their education.
“I've been in their shoes, and I know what it's like to be scared and desperate about how to support your health,” Rodriguez said. “This fund doesn't just provide immediate support but provides comprehensive retroactive support as well.”
After learning of a prescription voucher program started by the student government at Harvard University, Rodriguez and UPUA got to work with UHS.
Rodriguez added there is a possibility of expanding the fund in the future to cover additional costs in the future.
“We are thrilled about this opportunity to collaborate with UPUA in improving access to health services on campus. The Wellness Fund is just the beginning of exciting new developments with UHS and supporting student health equity,” said Micah Griffin, UHS senior director. “We are hopeful this initiative will help build the foundation of a community well-being model in UHS where health equity, outreach and advocacy are key to supporting our students.”
For more information about health insurance and for help navigating insurance options, visit the Student Insurance Advocate webpage. To learn about other support resources, visit the Basic Needs & Support page.