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As Murray State Considers Outsourcing Health Services Many Details Remain Unknown

Matt Markgraf, WKMS

Murray State University is considering outsourcing health services to address budget pressures, but many details about how it would operate remain unknown. Officials fielded a range of questions in a forum on Thursday from whether current health services staff would be affected to how - and how much - students, faculty and staff would pay for services. 

Many of the details depend on what interested vendors propose. The deadline for proposals is on Monday, September 18.

The Board of Regents heard options in a meeting earlier this year. A goal of outsourcing is not due to any "dissatisfaction with the current service" but rather an effort to save money due to budgetary pressures, Vice President for Student Affairs Don Robertson said. He led much of Thursday's forum. He said proposed savings would amount to around $500,000.

Robertson said the first priority is providing service to students, faculty and staff. He said, ideally, additional services would enhance what is currently being offered. He said he doesn't want to take a step back in service, but rather expand.

Robertson said 14 potential vendors came to the campus over the summer. Some groups specialize in college health, others were local operations like hospitals and urgent care clinics. The RFP (request for proposals) to vendors went through several drafts and involved the American College Health Association. The RFP assessed the current scope of services and the number of patients seen over the last year. The RFP went out in August. The return date deadline is September 18.

Proposals will be reviewed and vendors will be invited to come to Murray State and present their plans to the university community on the week of October 9. A decision is expected by October 25. Robertson said the change would start in the next academic year, either on July 1 or by the fall semester.

Health services director Kim Paschall said the current staff of five provides "free and confidential health care" for students, faculty and staff. Services include free lab testing for STDs, strep, mono, pregnancy and diabetes - no insurance billed or parents' insurance billed. In calendar year 2016, the staff treated 7,609 students and 1,454 faculty and staff. As of the end of August this year: 4,558 clients.

"Regardless of the outcome of the review, a significant change is about to occur in our health care services that are provided on campus. And the staff of health services would just like to say 'thank you' to those who've supported us through the years," Paschall said.

MSU health services currently cost around $925,000: $529,000 for health care and $396,000 for counseling. Robertson said the counseling aspect will remain as is, however, the RFP asks that a vendor offer a relationship and provide services in conjunction with that area.

Many of the 50 people in attendance asked a range of questions about how the service would operate.

Concern included what will happen to the current staff members. "I sure would hate to lose these folks," a person in the audience said to applause. Robertson said a concern for current staff employment opportunities is in the RFP.

They also asked about whether services will stay on campus. Robertson said the location on campus may stay the same or change, with the vendor potentially paying to construct a new building. He said it's important that the service stays on campus.

Since the services are currently free to clients, many questions involved how payments to the vendor will be handled. Robertson said there is a good possibility insurance would be charged or there could be a fee for service. He said an outside vendor would need to be financially self-sufficient. "If we're going to continue to pay for the service there's no need to change it. So yes, there's got to be a funding source for them to provide service," Robertson said. How students with no insurance would be served depends on what a vendor proposes.

How much the rates per visit would cost, how insurance would be billed and what students would have to pay are unknown at this time.

Robertson said the university is not considering making insurance a requirement for admissions (though acknowledged that international students are required to have insurance). The university is considering offering insurance policies to students who don't already have their own or are not on a parent's plan.

The general fees students pay each year towards the current services would be applied to other areas of the university.

Addressing other concerns, Robertson said the RFP includes bringing some lab work back, which had been a victim of past budget cuts. Educational programming (such as health awareness flyers on campus) was also included in the RFP. Student employment opportunities (i.e. work study) is in the RFP. Whether Murray State would get a commission from the vendor (the vendor paying MSU) for allowing their services could be determined in an RFP response. Whether the services would be available to community members is up to the vendor, but Roberson said this isn't something the university is considering.

Robertson said given financial challenges, Murray State is exploring all options available. Outsourcing health services is one of those options. "Is this a way of potentially continuing to provide a great service, perhaps even a better service, at the same time being able to look at the university budget and shift some of those dollars to other areas or use them - there's just a lot of needs right now," he said.

Matt Markgraf joined the WKMS team as a student in January 2007. He's served in a variety of roles over the years: as News Director March 2016-September 2019 and previously as the New Media & Promotions Coordinator beginning in 2011. Prior to that, he was a graduate and undergraduate assistant. He is currently the host of the international music show Imported on Sunday nights at 10 p.m.
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