Health insurance may become mandatory

By By Rochelle McConkie

By Rochelle McConkie

U administrators want to require that all students have health insurance, but they need the OK of a state insurance plan from Governor Jon Huntsman Jr. for anything to happen.

A soft waiver plan will go into effect at the U next fall, allowing students to declare whether or not they have health insurance when they register for classes and find out more information about university coverage.

But some U leaders questioned whether the soft waiver will really make a difference.

“The soft waiver has no teeth,” said Kari Ellingson, associate vice president of student development and assessment. “I’m not sure it will affect students’ decision to get (health insurance).”

Ellingson said she hopes the university will move toward a hard waiver, which requires students to have university health insurance or some other policy, but they need state support. She said the soft waiver could be a stepping stone toward a more stringent plan.

Hunstman’s spokeswoman Lisa Roskelley said there aren’t any concrete plans yet, but the Governor is developing a health care reform proposal that will be presented to the Utah State Legislature in the upcoming spring session.

“The goal is affordable health care for all Utahns, including college students, but there are no plans to segregate students out,” Roskelley said.

The U had a mandatory health insurance policy in the late 1990s, requiring students to have U insurance, but administrators pulled it because they were worried they would lose students to schools without a mandate.

Proponents said the plan was beneficial because it lowered premiums, since more healthy students were in the insurance pool. To avoid “pricing students out of school,” students could receive exemptions for financial hardship.

Now, though, Ellingson said the U lags behind other states because it doesn’t require coverage.

“We’re not where other schools are,” Ellingson said. “We’re a flagship institution and we should lead the state to do what is right for the students.”

Right now there is no system in place at the U to make students have health insurance.

Ellingson said about 20 percent of U students don’t have coverage, often forcing them to drop out of school when health issues come up because they can’t pay for medical bills and tuition.

The cost for a single student to become insured under the university policy through GM Southwest is $1,273 per year and covers a maximum of $50,000 in medical costs.

U leaders said the soft waiver will help educate students about health insurance options.

“The implicit theory is students don’t have health insurance because they don’t know (the U) has a policy at all,” said Jason Gillman, adviser to the Student Health Advisory Committee. “I don’t expect 2,000 students to sign up because they find out about it.”

When students register for fall classes, they will be asked if they have health insurance. If they don’t, they will be directed to a Web page listing U health insurance options.

Since the addition will be part of a routine enhancement of online registration, it will have no negative effects, U Registrar Tim Ebner said.

Gillman said the students need to be involved if the U is going to push for a hard waiver.

In April 2006, the Associated Students of the University of Utah surveyed students and passed a joint resolution recommending a hard waiver to administrators, but not much has happened since.

Current ASUU President Spencer Pearson, who was on the General Assembly when it voted in favor of the bill in 2006, said he isn’t going to pressure for a hard waiver unless they get a strong opinion from students to do so.

Pearson said the soft waiver may not help much in the long run, but it might make more insurance companies willing to send in proposals.

He said he is interested in collecting more information about the issue by surveying students and having meetings to educate students about health insurance, but did not list it as a top priority.

The Utah State University student government recently passed a resolution similar to the one ASUU passed in 2006 to push for the hard waiver.

“I’d like to look into it with USU, and if there’s interest across the state, we’ll engage the student body more,” Pearson said.

Gillman said if health insurance is an important issue to students, they should be following up on the bill passed two years ago.

“Once it passes in ASUU, what happens? Now they have to follow through,” Gillman said.

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