Health care act affects student insurance pursuit

While students may now have more equal options to obtain health care coverage, obstacles involving taxes, the job market and their wallets may stand in the way.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which requires most Americans to purchase health care, will affect insurance-providing universities as well as a college-age adult’s insurance choices.

One component to the act is a provision, enacted in September 2010, allowing dependents under 26 years old to stay on their parent’s health insurance plan and will remain in law because of the Supreme Court’s decision, unless appealed.

An estimated 6.6 million Americans between the ages of 19 and 25 joined a parent’s health care plan in 2011 because of the law, according to a survey by the Commonwealth Fund, which would have otherwise never occurred.

The provision has likely affected the way many students are now approaching health insurance.

Jim Hunsaker, assistant director of Student Health Service, said the provision sets requirements for all insurance plans, even self-funded university insurance, and allows for student health centers to serve as a student’s primary coverage.

The Student Health Center was very fortunate that the ability to be the primary care for students was not excluded, Hunsaker said.

He said since the Student Health Center has just a $6 door fee and does not bill any outside insurance companies a student may be under, the university is working diligently to incorporate the mandates of the Affordable Care Act for the student body.

There won’t be much impact, though, in terms of the services offered at the Student Health Center besides an increase in benefits, Hunsaker said. But the increase in benefits won’t come without cost to the student body, he said.

He said as the university is required to increase benefits to the student population, it is necessary to increase the fees the university charges.

The student health fee was $215 for both fall and spring semesters of FY12, according to student tuition records, and is basically the student’s insurance premium, Hunsaker said.

“It’s like car insurance, you pay a premium every month to have that coverage,” Hunsaker said. “And as with car or health insurance, as you increase benefits, premiums must also increase.”

Hunsaker said the act would require the Student Health Center to examine its plan and determine what students are willing to pay for.

William Schroeder, professor at SIU School of Law, said more students might actually reject the student health insurance offered through the university because the provision allows them coverage under their parents.

However, if an adult under 26 years old cannot get student insurance and is not under their parent’s plan, it’s going to be difficult to afford coverage, Schroeder said.

“Young adults fall through the cracks with the ACA,” Schroeder said. “Until the states set up insurance exchanges in 2014, many may stay in school for the insurance or simply choose to pay the penalty tax, which is less than paying for insurance.”

One problem, he said, is that most college-age adults are sitting on student loans and struggling to find jobs. Fundamentally, they just don’t have the money and getting sick isn’t their biggest concern, Schroeder said.

To top it off, many employers have been cautious about hiring new employees because they don’t want to buy health insurance and don’t know how much money they’re going to need to accommodate the new health care mandates, he said.

John Jackson, visiting professor for the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, said a great number of young people have difficulty finding jobs with health care plans attached as a fringe benefit so the provision is a real advantage.

Schroeder said if students are under their parents or can get student insurance through their institution, they don’t need to buy it. If they don’t have insurance, the penalty is more affordable and many will go without insurance to save money, he said.

The next logical step for the federal government will be to raise the penalty so insurance would be the affordable option, Schroeder said.

Schroeder also compared the situation to car insurance and said the reason it works aside from fines is the threat of losing your license.

“It works for car insurance, but right now, what are you going to lose here?” he said. “Nothing.”

Jackson said there is federal help for those who have income difficulties and they can obtain health insurance coverage.

Although some will probably just pay the penalty, there are a great number of advantages to having health insurance and a great number of disadvantages to not having it, he said.

“It would be an irrational choice to take the fine and not have health care coverage at all,” Jackson said.

Adrian Miller, a sophomore from Carbondale studying pre-law, said as a student, the provision provides students with more options to seek health insurance at least while they’re pursuing their eductaion.

He said he knows many students who, if forced to find their own health care, couldn’t afford to purchase it on their own or would have to sacrifice a lot.

“It would affect their educational experience when it comes down to being able to pay for food and books,” Miller said. “An extra bill a month is really hard on people.”

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About Tiffany Blanchette

Senior at SIUC majoring in photojournalism and zoology. Can be easily reached at or 618-536-3311 ext. 254.

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