Health care reform raises questions from students

Twelve hundred dollars is like gold to a college student. It can buy a meal plan at the Marketplace, a semester of housing, a giant flat screen TV, or … health insurance for a year? A large chunk of uninsured college students, around 20 percent of all students nationally, say no, according to a national government survey. After all, aren’t college kids are supposed to be fit, healthy and in the prime of their lives?

“(Students) should really get knowledgeable about the components of the heath plan,” said Jim Davis, director of the USU Health and Wellness center. “They’re political powerhouses.”

At 1,000-plus pages, most students won’t read past the title page of the health care bill passed last May. However, Davis said the bill may affect young adults around the nation more than they may think.

Here’s the breakdown:

The Cost of Good Care

A case of strep throat. An inflamed appendix. A broken arm. All common ailments to even the healthiest students. However, said Davis, without medical insurance, they can set students back for years.

“If you as a student come in, there’s only so much I can do, so much I feel comfortable doing. You might need some specialist care,” he said. “In order to get access right now, you’d have to have insurance or a very deep pocket. A trip to the orthopedist can cost you several thousand dollars, to get your appendix out can cost you between 10 and 12 thousand dollars.”

H.R. 3962, more commonly know as the health care bill, is based on what is called an “individual mandate”, meaning a requirement by a government that certain citizens purchase a good or service, in this case, health care. According to the bill, all legal citizens of the United States must have health care by 2014, or pay a tax fine through their income taxes that would be approximately the equivalent to their premiums.

Those who are within 130 percent of the national poverty level will be eligible for government subsidies, meaning that dependingon  their individual situations, the government will pay for some or all of their health care.

“A lot of people that are young and healthy don’t think it’s worth it,” said Roberta Herzberg, head of the political science department. “When young people are required to buy a fairly big policy without yearly lifetime limits, it will be expensive.”

Because the government already subsidizes health care for those in retirement age, those costs often fall on the heads of young people, Herzberg said.

“They don’t want older people to pay. As a  result, in order to keep the 60-year-old costs in line, younger people pay a higher rate. There will be some smoothing of overall cost,” she said.

No matter what happens with the bill, Davis said in the long run students should be expecting to foot a larger bill, because taxpayers will be the ones to fund the new subsidies.

Laura Anderson, president of the USU Young Democrats, said that even though it may cost now, it will pay for itself in the long run.

“You may be paying a little more, but I think it will be worth it,” she said. “In all honesty, most of us will be graduating and moving on to a mainstream job so we can afford that higher premium.”

Piggy-back ride?

Instead of putting the entire health care in effect at once, it is being spread over eight years. However, one of the pieces already in effect is also the one that may affect college students the most, Davis said. Students are now allowed to stay on their parents’ health insurance until they’re 26. Unlike most states, Utah already had a “26” law in place, but now married adults under 26 may stay on their parents’ health plans as well.

“Husband and wife can get insured, husband to (his) parents and wife to (her) parents even though they’re emancipated,” Davis said.

It puts much-needed money into student pockets, Anderson said.

“It’s letting you piggy-back. I know a lot of my friends are utilizing that,” she said. “It’s making name brand prescriptions a little cheaper. It helps you keep money for tuition and books.”

Terry Camp, president of the College Republicans at USU, said that when students hear about changes like the 26-year-old clause, they get excited without thinking it through how it will affect things like the job market.

“If these costs continue to rise, it may kill jobs for students after graduation,” he said.

While piggy-backing will save many students from having to buy health insurance while in school, in some cases, staying on parent’s health insurance isn’t beneficial. Camp could have remained on his mother’s insurance, but he said it was cheaper to buy his own policy.

Meeting the standard

Before the health care bill was passed, companies that had temporary or minimum-wage employees might offer them partial, or cheaper coverage. Many college students fall under these categories, Herzberg said.

Under the new bill, companies would either have to give employees heath care coverage that meets new standards of the Affordable Health Care Act, an expensive process, or choose not to offer benefits at all, making their employees eligible for subsidies. This causes problems, especially in labor-intensive fields, Herzberg said.

“Well when the new plan came out, they had to up it or drop everybody,” she said. “A lot of employers said we’ll just drop everybody.”

Under the bill, Utah State’s health care plans will also have to meet the new guidelines by 2014, Davis said.

“A lot of student health plans are scrambling to see if to see if they can meet the qualifications to be certified under the Obama heath care plan as an eligible plan,” he said. “If you, right now, today, purchased USU’s student health insurance, you’d still have to pay the fine. The current plan as offered by Utah State doesn’t meet the qualifications of the Affordable Health Care act.”

Davis said that by 2014, the school will have purchased a plan that meets ACA standards, so that students insured by the school will not have to worry about paying the fine.

Students should be aware that because coverage must increase, the price of student plans will rise noticeably, he said.

“Our current premium is a little over $1,000 per year. For full coverage, that’s going to jump significantly,” Davis said.

So…

Whether shopping for a new plan, or staying with a current provider, Davis said students need to consider their options and read the fine print. Even if health care is something students have never had to think about, he advises them to take a side in the debate.

“Will they come down on the side that says we should we proceed with it as it is, should we revise it, or should we simply disqualify it and refund it and start over?” he said. “They have some political weight in addition to their position as a consumer.”

“(Students) won’t have the choices they had before,” Herzberg said. “In the past you could choose not to be covered. Now, that’s not going to be as possible.”

– allee.evensen@aggiemail.usu.edu

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