Will state universities require all students to purchase health insurance?

06/25/07 Seán Kinane
WMNF Drive-Time News Monday | Listen to this entire show:

This fall, Florida State University in Tallahassee will require that all incoming freshmen have health insurance. The Board of Governors, which makes policy for state universities, will study the results of the FSU pilot program to decide whether to require that all state university students purchase health insurance before enrolling. WMNF’s Seán Kinane has more.

Leslie Sacher is the director of Florida State University’s Thagard Student Health Center and (and president of American College Health Association). Sacher is co-chair of the state’s Student Health Insurance Task Force appointed by the Board of Governors to examine the policy. She explains why FSU implemented the pilot program.

“It has been four years in the making. This was not a rash decision by Florida State University. It was a student-led initiative. … Health insurance seemed to be a humane, practical, cost-effective way that we could improve access to healthcare and to improve the health status of our community.”

Board of Governors spokesperson Bill Edmonds said that this program to require students to have health insurance has been talked about at the committee level but a decision is still a long way off. It will probably not be made this year.

FSU’s Leslie Sacher said that students who already have adequate health insurance would not have to purchase the additional insurance

“By moving from a voluntary plan to a mandatory plan, we do accept the insurance of students who are covered by their parents, but we look to see that there is a prescription coverage, we look to see that there is mental health coverage, we look to see that there is a provider network in Tallahassee.”

Sacher said that preliminary recommendations to the Board of Governors include requiring international students to have insurance that includes Mental Health and Prescription coverage, suggesting that universities pay for health insurance for their graduate student assistants, and that the cost of health insurance be covered by student financial aid.

Even though the effectiveness of the FSU program cannot yet be evaluated because it hasn’t started, Sacher thinks that it will be successful because benefits have increased and costs have gone down.

“We were able to improve our benefits significantly by having no preexisting conditions, doubling our prescription coverage, being able to have a higher coverage limit by covering allergies. We were able to significantly increase our benefits and keep the costs low by only having just this first class going mandatory.”

A task force at the University of South Florida recommended a similar program of mandating health insurance for all students. But as Associate Vice President for Student Affairs at USF, Tracy Tyree explains, the university decided not to implement the program until the Board of Governors makes its decision.

“We think that there are great advantages for students to consider a health insurance policy with a hard waiver [waiver for students who already have adequate health insurance]. We are supportive and interested in the work that Florida State [University] is doing, we are familiar with that. The University [of South Florida] had a task force that came out of the Division of Student Affairs two years ago that looked at some of these issues and indeed recommended that mandatory health insurance be considered.”

But not everyone thinks that requiring students to purchase health insurance is a good idea. Tony Teixeira is the student body president of Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. He said that the expense could be a problem for some students.

“Generally speaking, most people that don’t have health insurance, it’s not because they don’t want it, it’s more of an issue that they can’t afford it. And nowadays I find that I meet a lot of people whose problem with seeking higher education, period, has to do with financial situations. And I don’t see how putting an extra burden of an additional eleven hundred dollars per term or quarter, whatever it is they’re expecting, would make it any easier for those students who already found it difficult to afford higher education.”

Teixeira thinks that it could prohibit some low-income students from attending college.

“I would love to see universal healthcare. I just don’t think that it would be smart to ask the students to pick up the expense. I just think that would really affect the amount of students who actually attend colleges and universities.”

Physicians for a National Health Program, or PNHP, is an organization that advocates for a universal single-payer health program that makes private health insurance unnecessary. Joanne Landy is the Executive Director of the New York Metro Chapter of PNHP. She said that students would save money if a single-payer system were implemented.

“Most students or many students won’t be able to afford the policies that they are being forced to buy. And those policies, by the way, are terribly expensive because they’re being offered by the insurance companies, who have tremendous overheads and unnecessary waste built into the premium price that they charge. We’re paying for their advertising; we’re paying for their CEO salaries; we’re paying for their enormous staff that’s out there to deny claims. Whereas if you had a single-payer system, that is where the government insured everyone, most of that bureaucracy wouldn’t be necessary.”

An alternative to requiring students to purchase health insurance, according to Landy, is passage of House Resolution 676, which would institute a single-payer universal health care system for the country.

“There’s another way that would be able to cover everyone with much less bureaucracy, much less red tape, much more efficiency, and much more efficiency and much more humanity. … John Conyers and Dennis Kucinich have put forward a bill, H.R. (that’s House Resolution) 676, which now has 75 co-sponsors.”

To find out more about the state university Board of Governors, visit their website triple-w dot flbog dot org . To learn more about single-payer healthcare, visit the website of Physicians for a National Health Program at pnhp dot org .

For WMNF News, I’m Seán Kinane

Learn more:

Florida Board of Governors

Physicians for a National Health Program

Sun-Sentinel article

June 2006 Healthcare story on WMNF

SiCIO Cure

Healthy Campus 2010 report

== del below for time ==

States such as California and Massachusetts have recently enacted what they call universal health insurance programs, but Landy points out that many people are still falling through the cracks because these programs still involve insurance companies who can’t profit off sick people.

“I mean the students are one facet of a problem that is being, quote, “solved,” in an unworkable, impractical, but expensive way that is going to line the pockets of the insurance companies and isn’t really going to work out. And what we’re afraid of is that that is going to then discredit the whole idea of universal health insurance, because when it doesn’t work this way … In Massachusetts already they’ve shown that the insurance companies are not willing to offer affordable insurance that’s comprehensive to thousands and thousands of working-class people.”

comments powered by Disqus