The United States healthcare system is among the most complicated in the world, and can be overwhelming to a newcomer. This article will help you to navigate the complex world of providers, facilities and services.
As a University of Washington international student, you are required to purchase an insurance plan known as the UW International Student Health Insurance Plan (I-SHIP) when you register for classes. This insurance plan is administered by a company called Lifewise, and you will receive an insurance card in the mail with your identification number and group number. You may be asked to provide these numbers when you call a doctor's office. Carry your insurance card with you, as you may need it in order to see a doctor or visit a pharmacy.
Each insurance plan is different. However, all UW international students with I-SHIP have the same plan, which is described here. This plan does not cover the cost of all available services and medications, and covers some types of providers, visits and prescription drugs more than others.
Insurance plans in the US have contracts with medical providers. This means that your plan will cover more if you visit contracted or "in-network" doctors than non-contracted doctors. For example, I-SHIP will pay more of the cost of going to a provider in the UW system (UW Medical Center, Hall Health, etc.) than elsewhere. When you need to visit a doctor, be sure to ask whether I-SHIP is "in network" with that provider.
You are responsible for a portion of the cost of your services. First, your insurance plan has a deductible, or an amount that must be paid by you before your insurance begins to cover the cost of your care. The deductible does not apply to many services meant to prevent disease. Second, your insurance plan will require you to pay a portion of your visit and medication costs, known as co-insurance. This is usually a percentage of the total cost of the visit. Your insurance may cover 80 percent, in which case you would receive a bill in the mail for the remaining 20 percent.
You may be asked to pay a co-pay (short for co-payment) when you visit the doctor or pick up a prescription medication. This amount will vary depending on the service or medication. You can find out more by calling the insurance company or looking at I-SHIP plan benefits.
The US healthcare system has many different types of clinics and providers:
I-SHIP offers coverage of mental health care (both as an outpatient and inpatient), vision and dental care. Consult with Lifewise to find an in-network provider of these services.
I-SHIP does not cover the cost of complimentary or alternative medicine. Many acupuncture providers offer affordable services, sometimes on a sliding scale.
If you have limited English proficiency, or are not fluent in medical terminology, you may wish to request an interpreter at your visit. At Hall Health Center, we will arrange for an over-the-phone interpreter at no cost to you. You will need to inquire about interpreting services through other providers.
To make an appointment with Hall Health, contact the Patient Service Center
Check out these videos from UW's Student Insurance Office that show how to enroll in I-SHIP, explain benefits, and prepare you for a doctor's visit.
Watch a video from the Khan Academy that explains the US health care system