Dec 042009
Authors: Seth Anthony

When I listen to the national debate about health insurance currently raging in Congress, I’m struck by similarities to events that have happened here at CSU. I’ve been looking to those experiences to inform my opinion about what should be done at the federal level.

Most versions of the health care bill that are winding their way through Congress require that all Americans acquire health insurance. Similarly, in the fall of 2008, CSU instituted a requirement that all graduate students must have health insurance. The arguments about private choice versus the public good have raged among grad students as they have among politicians.

Much of the talk at the federal level surrounds the possibility of a “public option” — a government-run plan that anyone in the U.S. can sign up for. At CSU, our closest equivalent is the student insurance plan operated by Summit America. This plan, which is required to accept any student, currently has around 3,000 people, mostly graduate and international students, on its rolls.

Congressional Democrats have argued that putting more people onto an insurance plan — especially healthy people who normally feel like they can take the risk of not having insurance — spreads the risk across a wider pool of people and lowers the per-person cost of insurance.

In fact, the evidence from CSU is that enlarging the pool has indeed helped with costs. But this doesn’t mean costs have gone down, just that they’re increasing at a slightly slower rate.

Despite potential cost savings, many consider it unconscionable to first require people to have health insurance and then to them deny coverage for things they can’t control. That’s why eliminating “pre-existing condition” clauses have been a priority in Congressional proposals. CSU’s student insurance plan, for instance, requires that, if you didn’t have insurance before, you must wait until six months before
it’ll pay for treatment of a condition that you dealt with whileuninsured.

This is more than just an abstract argument — even within as small a population as CSU’s, failure to cover pre-existing conditions has very real consequences.

Last weekend, members of the CSU community held a benefit for graduate student Jason Bush, who was diagnosed with testicular cancer just days before his student health insurance kicked in. Even after his insurance had started, it wouldn’t pay for his continuing cancer treatment, leaving him with tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills.

When the CSU Board of Governors considered the mandatory health insurance policy in early 2008, then-Provost Tony Frank presented the argument that requiring insurance would avoid precisely these sorts of burdensome medical bills.

Specifically, the proposal noted that “the University embraces the rationale that catastrophic financial risks while attending the University should be minimized, risks that may impact a student’s ability to complete his or her graduate studies.” In Jason Bush’s case, this goal wasn’t achieved.

The failures of graduate student health insurance might seem distant from the everyday undergraduate experience, but university officials, including CSU Health Network Executive Director Steve Blom, have expressed interest in eventually expanding the health insurance mandate to undergraduates as well.

I’m not yet convinced that the broader good has been enhanced by CSU’s insurance requirement — certainly not enough to argue for its extension to undergraduates. And until health insurance reform achieves clear success on the small scale, I’m not confident we know what will work on the national level.

Fortunately, unlike Congressional debates, which you have little chance of influencing as an individual, you do have the opportunity for direct input on your student insurance plan.

The Graduate Student Council, working with the CSU Health Insurance Office and other bodies on campus, will be hosting a health insurance forum with staff both from the university and our health insurance provider.

This forum will be held on Dec. 1, at 5:30 p.m. in the Lory Student Center Grey Rock Room. Take this chance to weigh in with the CSU leaders who make these decisions regarding student health insurance policy on campus on how the university’s plan is or isn’t working for you.

It’s time to make your voice heard.

Seth Anthony is a chemistry graduate student. His column appears Tuesdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to

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