NU regents in no rush to privatize UNL clinic -
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NU regents in no rush to privatize UNL clinic

LINCOLN — University of Nebraska-Lincoln students could one day be getting their on-campus health care from a private provider.

The current University Health Center, in an aging building near the center of campus, is run by UNL. But Chancellor Harvey Perlman announced in September that he wanted to pursue privatization to save money and to build a new building.

One company — Lincoln's Bryan Health — submitted a bid, and the NU Board of Regents is scheduled to vote June 7 on whether to accept that bid.

Bryan would maintain the current services and provide a new building, but student fees would rise.

The regents originally were scheduled to decide the health center's fate Friday, but the vote was postponed until the June meeting.

Eric Kamler, UNL student regent, said the delay will give the board more time to study the move. “I think slowing down a little bit and taking a look back is important,” he said.

Dr. James Guest, director of the University Health Center, agreed.

“We need to find out why it's good for students, why it's good for the university and why this is the best option,” he said.

UNL students already voiced their approval for the project. In a nonbinding vote earlier this month, 62.5 percent of those who voted said “yes” to privatization.

Jena Bowman, a sophomore elementary education major, supports the proposal. “Times are changing and this is something we can't avoid forever,” she said.

Emily Neal, a junior pre-dental hygiene major, disagreed. Neal, who works at the health center, said UNL would be the only Big Ten Conference school to have a privatized health center.

“It's funny, because we're trying to do everything like the Big Ten, but now this is what they decide to do different,” Neal said.

UNL students now pay $297.96 per year for the health center and its services. If Bryan Health were to run the center, fees would increase to $322 per year.

The health center gets no tax money. The student fees cover regular exams and vaccinations — anything a family physician's office might have, Guest said. Students pay fees for anything outside the general clinic, but still pay far less than the general public, he said.

The center offers some free services to students, such as flu vaccinations, HIV tests and counseling for healthier lifestyles, Guest said.

All those services would shift to the new building, to be built at 19th and R Streets, if the Bryan contract is accepted.

Perlman said the change would not be just about getting a new building. Managing a small, independent health center will become difficult for the university as medical care changes under the new federal health care law, he said.

“I don't see it as other than a pretty easy decision,” Perlman said.

UNL would continue to offer its own insurance to graduate and international students, Perlman said, and Bryan Health would help negotiate that contract with an insurance company to get the best price.

“Bryan could save students money potentially,” Perlman said. “Co-pays could be less for all students.”

Bryan Health declined to comment until the Board of Regents votes. But Perlman said students stand to gain because Bryan provides quality care, and Bryan stands to gain the loyalty of students who, if they are happy with the services, will stick with the company after they graduate.

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