Saving student health insurance the ‘hard’ way

Editor’s Note: This is the second installment of a four-part series on student health insurance. Part three will run Friday, Nov. 11.

In a move to save the voluntary student health insurance plan from collapsing, the Student Health Advisory Committee is suggesting to U officials that they adopt a hard waiver plan.

The new plan would require all students to show proof of insurance before matriculating at the U.

The current policy, which allows students to decide whether or not they want health insurance, has resulted in a dilution of the U’s voluntary health plan because fewer and fewer are buying into it.

Tiffany Trinh, SHAC outreach director, said the main problem is that the students who do purchase the U’s voluntary health insurance program commonly have health problems, which drives up the number of claims and costs.

According to SHAC, 15 percent of U students currently do not have health insurance. By requiring these students to have health insurance, Trinh said she thinks more people will buy into the voluntary health plan because that’s what happened in the ’90s.

In 1994, the U required all incoming freshmen, international students and transfer students to show proof of insurance. By 1996, the hard waiver plan applied to all students.

For the next three years, the number of students paying for the voluntary health insurance plan increased while premium rates decreased.

In 1997, the mandate was dropped after a group of students complained. The school was getting a new president, and the administration said it wasn’t worth the fight, said Jason Gillman of SHAC.

Since dropping the hard waiver requirement, the number of students using the plan has decreased from 2,933 in 1997 to 1,084 in 2004.

Since then, the rates have more than doubled and benefits have decreased, including dropping coverage of prescription drugs.

SHAC members agree that because it worked in the ’90s, it will work again.

Many schools around the nation are mandating coverage. The University of Connecticut, the University of Toledo, Ohio State University and all 10 schools in the University of California system now require health insurance.

Costs vary from campus to campus, with undergraduates at UCLA paying $558 for a full year, while it costs $1,211 this year at the University of Toledo.

Student government representatives have expressed to Trinh and other SHAC members that they don’t want to price students out of an education.

But Trinh said having health insurance is a social responsibility and that when they buy insurance, students are putting their money in a pool to help out their peers. When more people buy into the plan, the cost of premiums decreases and benefits increase.

“By having a requirement, we are one step closer to helping students who can’t afford health insurance,” Trinh said.

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