Student group pushes health insurance mandate for all students

Only 1,600 U students, or 5.5 percent-are enrolled in the student health insurance program the U is currently offering.

One organization-the Student Health Advisory Committee-is trying to change these trends and implement a mandate requiring all students be insured.

If the U administration accepts the initiative, it would not affect current students, according to Tiffany Trinh, a member of the committee.

The policy would be added in phases by placing the requirement on incoming freshmen and transfer students only, she said.

However, Trinh said U President Michael Young would not approve the mandate without the backing of the student body, so SHAC has been trying to promote the mandate and educate U students on the importance of health- insurance coverage.

But the advisory committee said it still lacks student support.

Trinh said some student groups have rejected the mandate but have not shown up to explain their dissent in discussions.

The committee hosted one such educational session and answered questions from concerned students Friday in the Hinckley Caucus Room. However, the event attracted less than 10 students, most of whom were directly involved with SHAC.

Adam Reiser, a Student Advisory Committee member from the political science department, said student apathy toward the current state of health insurance means the status quo is working fine.

However, SHAC members expressed concern that students may not grasp the seriousness of the situation.

While the 18- to 24-year-old demographic is normally among the healthiest, Trinh said they are still prone to sexually transmitted diseases, chronic illnesses, pregnancies and accidents.

Ninety-eight percent of private and public institutions in the United States require their students to have health insurance coverage.

The U, however, is among the two percent minority that does not.

A recent poll conducted by an independent organization showed 20 percent of U students are either not covered, or don’t know they are insured.

John Poelman, ASUU vice president-elect, said the cost of health insurance is one main reason 8 million 18- to 24- year olds in the United States are uninsured. He is on the Student Health Insurance plan and for his coverage is paying about $120 per month, or $461 per semester.

GM Southwest provides student health insurance to the U, but is losing money by retaining the U as a customer. SHAC statistics show the company pays out $1.10 for every dollar they bring in. SHAC members said this is a dangerous statistic, and so the company may withdraw from its business with the U at any time. That would leave 1,600 students currently enrolled with nowhere to turn.

Of the 21 companies from which the U requested coverage, only three responded and GM Southwest was the only company willing to cover U students without a mandate requiring all to be insured.

If the mandate is incorporated, SHAC members said tuition would not be affected and added insurance premiums are already covered by grants and student loans.

Trinh said more students would come to the U plan under a mandate, thereby lowering premiums and extending benefits. She cited other universities that have pushed mandate requirements where premiums have dropped by 50 percent and students are in 98 percent compliance with the mandate.

Some students, like Bryson Morgan, weren’t satisfied with the answers in Friday’s session.

“This all seems like speculation and fuzzy answers,” Morgan said. “I don’t trust the insurance companies. It’s a crock if they say more students would make this cheaper and get us more coverage. [Insurance companies] don’t lose money or they wouldn’t be in the business. Huge changes will have to occur to change our premiums and coverage, not just three to four thousand students.”

Kerry Hill, SHAC coordinator, said international students were required to be insured beginning in Fall Semester 2004. She said about half of them joined the student program and half did not.

Despite SHAC’s research, Poelman said the committee needed more concrete numbers before proceeding.

“It’s inaccurate to assume those students at the U who don’t know if they have insurance don’t have it,” he said. “More evidence could make for a stronger case.”

While time passes, enrollment in the insurance program will likely plummet and costs will rise, according to Trinh.

The U implemented a mandate in 1994, but it was dropped in 1998 after “a small group of students said it was unconstitutional to tell them what to do,” Trinh said.

While concern was raised that some students may feel like they’re getting nothing out of the money they pay to insurance companies, Trinh compared it to homeowner’s insurance.

“If you buy house insurance, you shouldn’t get mad when your house doesn’t burn down,” she said.

SHAC is now backing the idea of a mandate, however Trinh said they would stop pushing for it if the students don’t want it.

“We just want to present the real dangers of leaving it the way it is,” Trinh said.

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