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Health care reform could give students one more option

Student Health Services (SHS) may not see many changes if health care reforms are implemented, but students who need to go somewhere other than SHS have other options.

U.S. President Barack Obama proposes a public option plan that allows insured individuals to keep their plans, while those who are uninsured can use federal funds to pay for health care when needed.

The public option is meant to hold insurance companies “accountable” for the expenses they charge, according to, the White House health care reform Web site launched by Obama in March.

“I’m a firm believer in everyone having health care,” said Alan Kent, assistant director of USF Student Affairs for Health and Wellness.

However, there is no mandatory health insurance in Florida, so every student may not be covered. The only mandate is for international students, Kent said.

Most students are covered under their parents’ health insurance, as long as the student is enrolled full-time in school, said Kent, who has worked in the health care field for 15 years.

“That covers many of our traditional undergraduate students … But remember, we have a non-traditional population,” Kent said. “We tend to have more transfer students, older students and returning students, so a lot of our students are not covered by their parents.”

Students pay a Health and Wellness fee each year, which makes them eligible to receive limited care at SHS, said Dr. Egilda Terenzi, director of SHS.

The fee is $8.60 per student credit hour this year, but that amount is subject to change yearly if the University decides to raise student fees, she said.

The student health fee covers primary care like “office visits,” but secondary care – lab work, medical tests, medications or hospital care outside of SHS – will cost extra, Terenzi said. Primary care at SHS will function the same no matter what happens with health care, she said.

However, SHS charges any secondary care to the student’s insurance company, but those who are uninsured have to pay out-of-pocket, Terenzi said.

SHS honors 125 different insurance plans, but approximately 25 to 30 percent of the students the clinic sees each year are uninsured, she said. Terenzi said SHS sees approximately 150 students daily.

If SHS makes any changes because of the health care reform, it may come only if the public option plan passes. If passed, SHS would have to process more students because everyone would have at least one insurance option, she said.

Kent said another option for uninsured students is buying a private plan in the community.

If individuals work at least 20 hours per week, most large employers offer an option for buying health care, he said.

Those plans can be expensive, though, so students have a third option to buy the USF Student Medical Insurance Plan, which is partnered with BlueCross BlueShield of Florida, Kent said.

The student insurance is just over $1,500 each year, according to its Web site. Under the plan, the student health fee covers the co-payment and deductible, he said.

Most insurance companies require a co-payment, which is a percentage of the cost of every doctor visit, and a deductible, which the insurance covers only if the bill reaches a certain amount.

Students can use SHS even if they are not enrolled in classes by paying the health fee for up to three semesters, Kent said.

However, he said the University may change its policy by the spring semester and allow students to pay the health fee for only one semester if they are not enrolled in classes.

USF government professor Susan MacManus said it is hard to determine exactly how health care reform will affect students until a definite plan is passed. She said it is uncertain how the funding will be structured and if a public option will even pass.

“Will (students) have to show that they’ve either taken the public option or have private insurance?” she said. “There are a lot of uncertainties that we really frankly can’t know until the final piece of legislation is on the table … There are multiple bills moving around and that’s what’s confusing a lot of people.”