Opinion: How the WellSpan-Gettysburg Partnership is Hurting Students

By Alfredo Roman Jordan, Guest Columnist

On Aug. 12, 2021, the College announced that it would be partnering with WellSpan to operate the health center on campus. Initially, the health center had been operated by the college itself, but it could not (or refused to) offer competitive wages to nurses who were leaving in droves to work at hospitals after the pandemic increased the wages of travel nurses by 50% and of normal RNs by 20 percent. The partnership was initially celebrated as the administration stated that this new beginning for the Health Center would allow it to offer better services for students. But at what cost has the Health Center been offering those services?

Before the change to WellSpan visits to the Health Center was a flat fee of $25, and during the pandemic the Health Center was free. But now many students—especially international students—are facing large, completely unexpected bills from WellSpan. I first faced this issue after my first visit to the Health Center, after being told that the College insurance would cover the cost of the unnecessary allergy medications they gave me (I don’t have allergies but I ended up having an infection which I found out after two more visits), I was faced with a bill of $35. Not too much, I thought, so I paid the charge. 

It was not until January that I would face this issue again—a $133 bill for one visit on Oct. 27. When did I receive this bill? Mid-January, with one month to pay it. $133 for one visit is a sharp increase from the $25 students were charged before WellSpan but what makes it even worse is that my insurance didn’t pay a single dollar of the bill. What insurance am I on? Gettysburg College’s insurance for international students, which apart from costing over $4000 a year, doesn’t cover visits to the Health Center.

I am not the only student facing this issue, though, as after asking other international students, many of them had told me about unexpected bills, some over $200, all charged mid-January, and all of them without a single dollar paid by UnitedHealthcare (ISS’s insurance). 

I asked Bruno Garcia ’26 about his experience. He said, “I was faced with a bill of $200 in January,” he said. “That is a lot of money in my country, Peru, about half the minimum wage in my country.” 

Garcia works at Bullet earning $12 an hour, so it’s going to take him almost half a month’s work to pay the unexpected bill. The issue is that the due date for his bill, like mine, is only a month after he was given it, so paying it will be a challenge. 

I also heard from Jan Klinger ’26, who was charged $250, which left him confused as “they [WellSpan] did nothing, I just saw a nurse and got no treatment. This is a lot of money in my country. Where did the $4000+ I spent on the insurance go?” 

It left me perplexed that so many students were being charged different amounts, it didn’t seem like there was a consistent figure to WellSpan’s pricing, what was consistent though was the sense of confusion that students felt and the lack of transparency when it came to the costs associated with basic care.

International students have faced this challenge especially because in our countries healthcare is free, so even though we know it’s not the case in America, we still think our $4000 yearly payment will cover at least the Health Center. We received no guidance on Health Center billing, or what we can do when we are unable to pay. Additionally, the Health Center staff had no idea how much we were going to be charged, giving everyone the same response that “it depends on your health insurance,” which while it does they could at least provide a figure for the large student population that is on ISS’s health insurance plan.

Apart from the issue with billing, many students have had issues with the treatment they received at the Health Center. 

“When I went they told me I had allergies. They gave me a flu test and charged me $50. I went back a week later and was told I had bronchitis, but they still gave me another flu test for $50,” said Logan Troy ’26. 

“They told me I had allergies but I had bronchitis, borderline pneumonia. Now every time I’m sick I go straight to urgent care. The Health Center doesn’t listen, they give you generic answers,” said a student who wished to remain anonymous. 

The consensus between all the students I asked was that they’d rather not go to the Health Center because they didn’t want to face unexpected bills and didn’t want to be misdiagnosed. Why would WellSpan care though, after all, they have a monopoly over healthcare in Gettysburg, so even if you don’t go to the Health Center on campus you will still go to WellSpan urgent care down the road, it is a win-win for them.

I think the root of why the issue hasn’t been resolved is clear. When charging $25 a visit, the College was losing money on the Health Center but WellSpan can easily solve those problems by charging four times more per visit. To solve the issue the college would have to pay for part of the visit’s copay themselves. I think it is not too much to ask considering we are at a time when public health is more important than ever. If students don’t feel healthy, how are they going to be able to go to class to get an education? In floor meetings, we are constantly reminded of the new wellness initiative the college is launching and I believe part of that should be to have an affordable Health Center that every student, without the barrier of nationality, can access without being scared of going into debt. A proposed solution is that instead of charging us through WellSpan’s system we could be charged to our student account so that financial aid could pay part of the bill.

The Health Center is clearly problematic and what initially started as a partnership that was supposed to improve the quality of care has ended up becoming a nightmare for students who have been facing large bills and have been repeatedly misdiagnosed. I think it’s time for the College administration to rethink its partnership with WellSpan, and consider alternative ways to bill students. Student health and wellness should be treated as a priority, and by outsourcing our care the college has put that priority in the hands of a corporation whose first goal is to make money, not to foment our well-being.

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Author: Gettysburgian Staff

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