USF delays push for mandatory student health insurance

A national lawsuit may stonewall University efforts to require all future USF students to purchase health insurance.

The proposed mandate, which requires all incoming USF students to show proof of health insurance before enrolling in the University by fall 2012, is scheduled to appear on the Student Government (SG) ballot this February to gauge student interest before being voted on by the Board of Trustees.

However, those plans hinge on the results of a national lawsuit that claims the idea is unconstitutional.

The lawsuit, which is spearheaded by Florida and has gained support from 26 states, according to the Associated Press (AP), argues that a new national health care law that forces citizens to purchase health insurance by 2014 is “unconstitutional and violates people’s rights.”

According to the AP, the lawsuit is expected to be resolved by the Supreme Court. Until then, Senior Director of Student Health Services Diane Zanto said the similar USF proposal will have to wait.

“The (mandate’s) premise is still sound, but with the current politics, it doesn’t make sense to take this to the Board of Trustees,” she said. “If the Supreme Court rules that mandatory insurance is unconstitutional, schools could not enforce it as a condition of enrollment.”

In the meantime, Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs Alan Kent said the Wellness USF team and Student Health Services are working with six other universities in a statewide consortium to keep insurance costs low for students.

“We should know within the next few weeks how many schools will definitely be participating and what the rates will be,” he said. “We’re pretty optimistic that the consortium will help us keep the rates from jumping up as much as they did last year … so we don’t feel as pressed to push this mandatory component. We want to wait and see how the consortium works.”

The mandate was originally conceived to keep the cost of student insurance, especially the insurance offered through USF, from escalating.

Only about 4 percent of students enrolled at USF have purchased the University’s health insurance plan, increasing the cost from $1,600 to $2,400 per year with a “139 percent loss ratio.” The usual loss ratio anticipated by insurance companies is 80 percent, Zanto said in a November interview with The Oracle.

“What that means is that they expect that for every dollar of premium paid they will pay out 80 cents in claims to the insurance company, so they have 20 cents profit to use for their overhead, which is a good, solid industry figure,” she said. “Last year, in terms of premiums paid, they paid out $1.39 in claims – meaning they lost 40 cents on every dollar on the insurance plan they offered our students.”

Kent said that requiring all students to purchase health care – students who would use it frequently or not at all – would counter these high overhead costs and keep insurance costs low for all purchasers.

The consortium, which negotiates with insurance providers, may yield a similar effect without requiring all USF students to purchase health insurance.

Nonetheless, Zanto said students will still have the opportunity to weigh in on the mandate through the SG vote next month.

“We are still encouraging Student Government to pass a resolution in favor of it and call a vote,” Zanto said. “We will wait until the national issue is resolved, but if it goes in favor of mandatory, we want to have the information that the student body position has shifted.”

Kent said the mandate was placed on the SG ballot last year and received a negative response from students. Student opinion for this year’s vote may be waning due to negative media reports about the national lawsuit, Kent said. Or, it could secure SG and student support.

“Any change like this has to be started about a full year in advance,” he said. “So if the consortium is not working, is not keeping rates down, we may still want to go to the Board of Trustees about the mandate.”

Kent said the departments will still offer programs, like student surveys about health insurance, to educate students about the benefits of a possible mandate.

“Our thought is, ‘Let’s wait and see what happens with the consortium next year, let’s see where the political situation goes and then lets see what our options are with mandatory insurance,'” he said. “If the court rules that it’s not legal, then the whole issue is a moot point. Otherwise, I think the argument is still the same.

“I am absolutely convinced that if we had mandatory insurance it would greatly reduce the cost of insurance for all.”