More State Schools Require Health Insurance for Students

Under most state laws, when a person turns 24 or 25, he or she is no longer eligible for coverage under parents' employer insurance -- even as a full-time student.

Statistics show that many young people may forgo coverage, either because of costs or because they think they don't need it.

The Lookout Mountain Group, a non-partisan group that researches the impact of health care reform on the college student population, estimated that anywhere from 25 to 30 percent of college students attending four-year institutions are uninsured.

Young adults in general make up the largest uninsured group nationally, according to a 2008 U.S. Census survey. In Texas, where Simpson lives, 46 percent of people ages 19 to 24 were uninsured in 2008.

The Florida State University system implemented mandatory insurance at Florida State University a few years ago to analyze the benefits of mandatory insurance against the costs.

Bill Edmonds, director of communications for the systems board of governors, said the task force charged with examining the results has yet to make a recommendation for the entire system.

"The board is treating it as a pilot project and it has been reluctant to make any recommendations until we have time to see what the impact is," Edmonds said. "It's obviously a benefit to students, but it comes at a cost. We just want to see how it works out and if it is possible that some modified version of the plan might be better than the original plan. It could be an unmitigated success or a huge failure."

Pros and Cons of Health Insurance Mandates

Several other universities, including Minnesota State, also are looking into a requirement via pilot programs or task forces.

The University of Maryland is one of a few schools that began requiring coverage this year, although it chose to require it only for incoming freshman and transfer students.

The policy is "designed to limit students' financial liability and keep them in school when faced with a health emergency," according to a university press release.

Stacy Pogue, a senior policy analyst at the non-partisan Center for Public Policy Priorities, said coverage mandates for students have pros and cons, but providing an optional student insurance plan has clear benefits.

"Requiring students to [have coverage] really comes with trade-offs," Pogue said. "You would know that all your students are insured and that's good. That could mean lower cost for emergency rooms in the community. It might have the effect of bringing more reimbursements into the student health center. It might mean a healthier campus population.

"But the downside is that health insurance is expensive and there are some students who we know if you added an extra fee for tuition wouldn't be able to afford coverage or to go to school or to go full-time," Pogue added.

Beckley said universities choose mandates for a variety of reasons, including issues associated with access to mental health care, liability, retention rates and cost burden on local hospitals.

He said a requirement can serve as a safety net for students who are increasingly precariously insured by private health coverage, and may lose coverage after a parent's job loss, like Simpson did.

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