Mar 222010
 
Authors: Seth Anthony

Health insurance reform is happening.

On Sunday night, 219 members of the U.S. House of Representatives, including our congresswoman Betsy Markey, joined the U.S. Senate in approving the most sweeping health legislation in decades. A “reconciliation” bill to make a number of tweaks to this first bill has also passed the House and will likely be approved by the Senate and signed into law soon.

The path of health care reform is now basically set –– most Americans will be required to buy health insurance. That health insurance will be required to meet certain standards and subsidies will be put into place to help cover much of the cost of insurance for many people. 

But there’s a lot of fine print in the thousands of pages in these two bills that only became clear last Thursday, when the final text was released.

One of the pieces of fine print that we should pay attention to is how these reforms will affect student insurance plans, like CSU’s, which many graduate students are already required to purchase and which currently enrolls some 3,000 CSU graduate and undergraduate students. About 3 million students are enrolled in similar insurance plans nationwide.

Although there’s a lot of dissatisfaction with student health insurance and many improvements can and should be made, student insurance plans have two important qualities that I think are worth protecting.

First, student health insurance plans are available to any student or their dependents, and student insurance can’t turn people down or alter their rates based on their age, gender or past medical history. That’s part of a university’s commitment to making sure all students have a reasonably affordable insurance option.

Second, because these plans are available to only students and because students tend to be younger and need less medical care than the population on average, the average cost per student is less than the cost of a group plan with comparable benefits through an employer.

However, the bill passed by Congress seems to put both of these features of student health insurance at risk.
Because it’s a university and not an employer that offers the insurance plan, the health care legislation classifies student health insurance plans as “individual” coverage. That classification means that, under the new rules, these plans will have to be made available to non-students –– non-students whose medical expenses are likely to be greater, on average, and who will likely drive up the cost of the plan. 

Furthermore, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, the bill would not allow the cost of student health insurance to be determined as it currently is: based on students’ actual usage of the plan but would instead have costs be determined using “community rating,” which factors in how much the general public uses medical services and could factor in individual students’ age or past medical history.

Because the average member of the public has more medical needs than the average college student, community rating is also likely to drive up the cost of student insurance plans.

The Association of American Universities, which generally supported health insurance reform legislation, noted that the bill “threatens the ability of all colleges and universities to continue to offer students group-like health insurance plans that are both high-quality and low-cost because it applies the individual market reforms to such plans.” Just last week, after the final text was released, they concluded that these issues “do not appear to be addressed in the reconciliation bill.”

The bottom line is that university leaders nationwide expect that the current health insurance reform bills will significantly raise the cost of student health insurance, decreasing the affordability of higher education. Fortunately, there’s still time for Congress to make further revisions to the legislation before all of its provisions kick in. 

I challenge Colorado’s senators and representatives, as well as the candidates for those offices, to commit to making sure that student health insurance is protected and remains as affordable as possible.

Seth Anthony is Ph.D. student in chemistry, as president of the Graduate Student Council, as ASCSU Liason for Graduate and Professional Affairs, and in the Collegian most Tuesdays. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

 Posted by at 2:44 pm

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