At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, students are eligible to apply for the Student Health Insurance Program (SHIP) which covers mental health and mental illness medications, including treatments for anxiety, depression, sleep and bipolar disorder.
SHIP is designed specifically for UW-Madison students, providing a comprehensive insurance plan that covers additional health care costs incurred at University Health Services (UHS).
“The SHIP office is part of UHS, and UHS is an integral part of the SHIP plan model. In most cases, SHIP members use UHS for their primary and preventive care needs — with no member cost-sharing,” said UHS Communications Manager Kelsey Anderson. “When a SHIP member cannot access UHS or services are not available at UHS, the member has access to a nationwide network of providers, including hospital services and speciality care.”
Those eligible for SHIP include United States citizens or permanent residents who are enrolled in six or three credits for undergraduates and graduate students, respectively. International students (F-1, J-1, H-1, etc.) who hold any non-immigrant status are required to enroll in SHIP, unless they qualify for a waiver to opt out, according to SHIP program manager Richard Simpson.
International student experience
Leonie Maurer, a foreign exchange student from Germany, said she could not opt out of SHIP regardless of the fact that she is covered by a German private insurance company in the U.S.
“In general, I feel like having SHIP [and] being covered and not having to wait for my German insurance company to provide me with certain medical care makes things easier,” she said. “It's not an unreasonably high amount for me to pay on top of the insurance that I have back at home.”
Throughout Maurer’s time on campus, she’s made one trip to a Madison area hospital, not affiliated with UHS, for an undisclosed situation.
“I went to the service center at UHS and they provided me with an appointment, but I needed something more urgent. So, I went somewhere else, and [UHS] helped me find other places to go,” Maurer said. “I’ve never had a health emergency here [in the United States], so [UHS] were super helpful providing me with the information of where to go and how to get there.”
The hospital chose Maurer's private German insurance provider, but she is unsure why they picked it over SHIP.
“They asked me for my insurance, and I said I have SHIP insurance and the one at home that would take care of it, and they chose the one from Germany,” she said. “So I don’t know why they didn’t choose SHIP insurance to be honest, but I guess for me it doesn't matter because I still have both.”
SHIP rates will change depending on an applicant's age and student categorization: domestic, international student or international scholar. There are different plans that students can apply for, which provide more or less coverage.
When it comes to mental health medications, SHIP allows coverage for a range of treatments. Through the CVS Caremark Advanced Control Formulary — a subset of drugs covered by the plan — students are able to see which medications would be available to them at a lower cost.
According to Jocely Kerl, Pharmacy Benefit Manager for National CooperativeRX, a not-for-profit organization that provides pharmacy benefits and is used by SHIP, generic medications should be the first line of therapy and the lowest cost for the plan and patient.
Kerl also noted that generic medications are covered as a tier one copay, meaning they would be the lowest costs for SHIP members, while brand name medication would be covered as tier two or three copays.
Any mental health-specific medication would be listed under Central Nervous System in the formulary, with tier one medication being listed in lower case, italic font on the list and tiers two and three being listed in uppercase font.
“If there is a clinical reason why the formulary drug cannot be used for a specific member, then the patient's prescriber can request a formulary exception,” Kerl said.
SHIP and mental health
At UW-Madison, there are many organizations on campus that advocate for mental health awareness. Among them is the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI), a student organization that promotes mental health and fights mental illness stigmas through support, education and advocacy.
“It is very crucial that the university provides that financial support for students regarding their mental health,” said NAMI President Katherine Zimmerman. “I think it's admirable of the university to do that for students and it goes to show the connection between academic success while also having good mental health.”
Zimmerman said medication is only a short-term fix, although it’s great UW offers accessibility to mental health and mental illness medication.
“Just because you might be able to get the prescription drug to treat the mental illness you have does not disregard the fact that you might need additional support through counseling or through psychotherapy,” she added.
At UHS, students are offered group counseling and individual counseling services. According to Zimmerman, mental health services at UW-Madison have come a long way, but there is always room for improvement.
“Once the university gets to the point where they are able to provide an equal amount of support for both the biomedical and the psychotherapy for mental health and mental illness, then I think that is success on the university’s part and on UHS’s part,” she said.
To enroll in SHIP, students will either have to apply for the fall open enrollment period or spring/summer enrollment depending on their time of enrollment. Spring and summer enrollment will begin on Dec. 15 for coverage from Jan. 15, 2023 to Aug. 14, 2023.