Jan 262005
Authors: Lila Hickey

The phrase "mandatory insurance" may raise hackles, said Steve Blom, director of the Hartshorn Health Service, but students need not worry yet.

For one thing, the insurance program discussed at Wednesday night's Associated Students of CSU Senate meeting is not, in fact, a mandatory proposal, Blom said.

"If it was a truly mandatory plan, you would have to buy CSU's (insurance)," he said.

Blom was referring to a piece of legislation that Rep. Bob McCluskey may introduce to the Colorado legislature, requesting that state universities be allowed to require students to obtain some form of health insurance.

Because of a state law passed in 1994, institutions may not require students to be insured, although institutions that required insurance prior to 1994 may continue to do so.

Many universities in Colorado, including the University of Colorado-Boulder, the Colorado School of Mines, Metropolitan State College of Denver and Adams State College already required students to have health insurance.

"When these schools were doing it, Colorado State probably should have," Blom said.

McCluskey's proposed legislation, if it were indeed submitted, would be at the behest of the Board of Governors of the CSU System, which is in turn acting on a recommendation from Ed Bowditch, CSU's vice chancellor for administrative affairs.

Bowditch made the recommendation because the CSU-Pueblo campus wishes to require mandatory health insurance for its international students, a practice already occurring at CSU-Fort Collins.

Federal law requires international students with a certain status to have health insurance. CSU-Fort Collins has its own requirement for all international students, but because of the 1994 legislation, CSU-Pueblo cannot create such a requirement without legislation that would nullify the previous state law.

If the law did pass, the CSU board of governors would have the opportunity to introduce required insurance for all students at both the Pueblo and Fort Collins campuses, said Maria Bennett, legislative director for ASCSU.

However, it is unlikely that any changes in insurance requirements would occur in Fort Collins in the near future, said ASCSU President Katie Clausen.

"(The board of governors) haven't mentioned that at all," Clausen said. "I wouldn't foresee the discussion here at the university level to be less than a year (long) and I wouldn't think the board of governors discussion to be less than a year."

McCluskey has not officially submitted the legislation to the state legislature, although he has prepared a draft, Bennett said. He is involved in discussions with Bennett and Clausen to gauge student response to the proposed legislation.

"He is very student-friendly," Clausen said. "He wanted to help the board out in any way he could, but he also didn't want to overstep the students."

Clausen conducted a "straw poll" – an informal hand vote – of the senators and audience members to decide what she and Bennett will recommend to McCluskey. Senators were informed of the issue at the previous senate meeting and were asked to come to Wednesday's meeting with an idea of how their constituents would feel about McCluskey's proposal.

The response to the idea was "positive" but also showed "serious reservations," Clausen said. Some people expressed concerns about the potential power the bill would give the board of governors, including the possible introduction of required insurance at CSU-Fort Collins.

Thea Rinard, an assistant director of public relations for ASCSU, is concerned about the consequences for students if the board of governors introduced mandatory insurance at the Fort Collins campus.

"I am unable to afford insurance right now," Rinard said. "If I had to pay those $600 a semester more, I would not be able to attend school. Period."

Rinard fears that required insurance would discriminate against students at a lower socio-economic level and could force some of them out of school.

Clausen acknowledged this concern, as did Blom. Blom said that if insurance became a requirement for admission at CSU, Hartshorn, which offers student insurance, would work with CSU's financial aid programs to help students struggling with the additional insurance payments.

Blom also said that if insurance were required at CSU, some of the estimated 10 to 15 percent of uninsured students on campus might turn to student insurance, which would actually benefit the program. A larger group of students would result in greater benefits, he said, and might even help lower premiums.

Rinard agreed that international students at CSU-Pueblo should be able to have a university-mandated insurance policy but felt that the Pueblo and Fort Collins campuses should not be considered under the same legislation.

"I think they should have the full power to make those decisions," she said. "(But) In general our university seems very different from CSU-Pueblo. That's my fear – forgetting the uniqueness and the differences of the campuses."

Rinard said that students at both campuses should investigate the programs already available to them, such as the drug-assistance program at the Hartshorn.

Many health centers, including Hartshorn, have programs with major pharmaceutical companies that allow students to receive prescription medication at discount prices. Rinard herself spent two years paying for expensive asthma and allergy medicine before she discovered these opportunities.

"The benefits that are already offered need to be highlighted more," she said. "It took me two years to find out I qualified for these drug-assistance programs."

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