For University of Colorado sophomore Brittni Michaelis, health care has become every bit as important -- and costly -- as buying textbooks or paying tuition.
That's because a badly broken leg took Michaelis off the soccer field and put her into the emergency room last year. Even though CU's student insurance plan covered a portion of her bills, she still paid $7,000 out of pocket.
For more information about United Healthcare, CU's new provider, visit uhcsr.com and click "find my school's plan."
But starting next fall, injuries sustained by members of CU Club Sports teams -- such as Michaelis -- during practice and gameplay won't be covered at all by campus health plans unless those students pay an additional $200 a semester.
"I only used my insurance for soccer reasons," Michaelis said. "It's the whole reason I signed up for insurance -- so if it's no longer included, then I'll probably either lower my coverage or just drop it altogether next year."
CU's student health plans never had covered Club Sports injuries before last August. But after the new Club Sports coverage raised premiums by $45 apiece for all students, CU officials asked the campus's new insurance provider, United Healthcare, to make that coverage optional.
Yet student athletes and club sports coaches now say they fear that increased cost will deter student athletes from buying coverage at all. University administrators counter that individual students should be responsible for their own Club Sports coverage, rather than having the cost spread to the entire student body.
"Until this year we've never covered Club Sports injuries, so this additional coverage option is a good way for students to individualize their needs," said Michele Van Pelt, Wardenburg Health Center's associate director of business and finance operations.
An average of 6,000 students per semester enroll in CU's health plans. During the 2009-2010 term, less than 100 of those students were involved in Club Sports.
Cheryl Kent, CU's director of recreational services, said that while students involved in Club Sports may incur an additional cost, she's pleased that the injuries are covered at all.
"We've been working for a while with Wardenburg to get these students covered and it's great that they have an option like this," Kent said. "They were never covered before, so I guess something is better than nothing."
NCAA athletes at CU are not on the same coverage plan as the majority of students because of special coverage requirements, which athletic department officials would not elaborate on.
But Michaelis said she fears the increased cost to athletes might encourage students to avoid insurance or even skip playing Club Sports to avoid outrageous medical expenses. At the other end of the spectrum, Intramurals -- which are less formal than Club Sports -- are covered by CU's health plan.
Club Sports coordinator Patty McConnell said the competitiveness of Club Sports puts those athletes at a higher risk for injury than those playing Intramurals.
"It is absolutely necessary for these (Club Sports) students to get coverage," McConnell said. "Especially for sports that are high impact like ice hockey, rugby, lacrosse or soccer."
Jim Stebbins, CU's women's rugby coach, said the extensive coverage offered for athletes during the 2009-2010 school year made it possible for some students to play when they otherwise could not.
"Not every student who attends CU has the resources to have private health coverage, but every student deserves the chance to enjoy the college experience," Stebbins said. "If getting the most involves playing Club Sports, the school needs to find a way to help make that happen."