Health insurance debate familiar to USF
Published: Monday, April 2, 2012
Updated: Monday, April 2, 2012 00:04
Though the U.S. Supreme Court is deliberating over the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act and its mandatory insurance requirement, USF has no plans to revisit its own mandate.
Last week, the Supreme Court heard state representatives’ concerns, spearheaded by Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, about the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. Florida is one of 26 states that have refused millions of dollars in federal funds for implementing the early portions of the 2010 law.
Yet USF had its own debate about the idea of mandatory health insurance prior to the current legal battle.
Student Health Services (SHS) considered implementing a mandate that would require students to have proof of health insurance before becoming enrolled at the University, but students rejected the idea.
Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs Alan Kent, who formerly championed the mandate, said the University has no intention to reconsider a mandatory heath insurance policy, regardless of the Supreme Court’s decision.
“We don’t envision making a step toward mandatory insurance (at USF),” he said. “We just accepted the fact (that), ‘OK, this is not the right time for people to have a mandatory plan.’ We still believe, ultimately, it would be in the best interest of everybody, but it’s challenging.”
Diane Zanto, director of SHS, said the department was pushing for a mandate but 70 percent of students rejected the idea when it was put on the Student Government ballot last year.
“I think students were all freaked out about the idea about anything being mandated, and any increased costs to their tuition are really frowned upon,” she said.
The intent, if health insurance was mandated, would be for healthy people to subsidize the costs of sick people, Zanto said.
“It’s how insurance runs worldwide,” she said. “You’re counting on the fact that a certain percentage of the people will not use the insurance and other people will.”
The idea, known as adverse selection, refers to people who buy voluntary health insurance because they need it and overutilize it, she said, driving up the cost in a “continual spiral.”
A mandate would help balance the overutilization, Zanto said, and decrease the overall cost for health insurance. Currently, about 40 percent of USF students are uninsured, she said.
SHS now offers students a voluntary insurance program provided by UnitedHealthcare, Zanto said.
Marisol Hernandez, associate director of SHS, said the enrollment in the voluntary program has decreased from 802 students last academic year to 460 this year due to dependents being able to stay on their parents’ insurance until age 26 under the Affordable Care Act.
For USF’s program, the target utilization is 80 percent, meaning for every $10 in premiums the company receives, it expects to pay $8 for claims.
“In our case, (the claim payout) has always been over $10,” Zanto said. “And so they are losing money on us each year.”
Because enrollment has decreased, the cost of the policy has increased to students. Every year, Hernandez said, health insurance rates historically increase about 12 to 13 percent.
The cost for annual coverage last academic year for the voluntary program was $2,534 and increased to $2,570 this year.
The health insurance plan at Florida State University — the only Florida university which mandates that students show proof of health insurance — cost $1,455 for domestic students during the 2011-12 school year.
Though the Supreme Court will announce its final verdict in June, Lawrence Morehouse, a USF constitutional law professor, said he believes the act is constitutional and that the Supreme Court will uphold the law.
One of the issues against the act, he said, is a violation of federalism, suggesting the law overrides powers of the states by mandating insurance plans at the individual level.
“Congress already abides Medicare support,” he said. “They have a relationship between the state and federal government. The whole Medicare, Medicaid, that we currently enjoy, these are laws developed by Congress designed to help people get access to health care.”
This demonstrates the Supreme Court’s authority to approve laws without violating the Constitution.
“Based upon decisions by the Supreme Court, it appears this policy does not contradict federalism, because the courts have already confirmed that the Constitution does give Congress the power to develop such regulations,” he said.
Zanto said the industry of health insurance has undergone a lot of change in the last couple of years and will continue to in the future.
“All we do know as a country, as a nation, is we can’t continue to escalate the cost of health care,” she said.