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Mandatory health insurance to be on SG ballot

During this month’s Student Government (SG) election, students will have the opportunity to give their opinion on a controversial initiative – mandatory student health insurance.

A new referendum was added to the ballot to ask for students opinions on whether the Board of Trustees should “consider adopting a regulation for all incoming students that would require that they purchase health insurance coverage if they are not already covered by another policy.”

Diane Zanto, senior director of Student Health Services, spoke at Tuesday’s SG Senate meeting about the policy, which would go into effect no earlier than fall 2013 if implemented.

“When you have voluntary health insurance plans, which are what we offer on campus, what happens is that only people that use the insurance will purchase the insurance,” Zanto said. “It means the premium rises and benefits become thin.”

The insurance company offered through Student Health Services (SHS) paid out $1.89 in medical costs for every $1 they received because fewer students are electing to purchase insurance, she said. If purchasing health insurance was mandatory, Zanto said, bloated premiums would disappear because more money would be coming in to the insurance company.

If students do not elect to purchase the University plan, they would still have to show proof of health insurance. Non-compliance with the mandate would place a hold on a student’s account, she said.

This is the second time the issue has appeared on the SG ballot, said Susanna Perez-Field, who manages the Student Insurance office in SHS. During the 2010 election, the proposal was met with a negative response from students.

“It was on the ballot last year, but there was no education, no discussion and no information for students to receive at that time,” Perez-Field said. “And I don’t think the question was phrased in a way that students really understood it.”

Even if students vote in favor of the referendum, the new policy cannot be adopted until it is approved by the Board of Trustees and declared constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.

A Florida judge ruled last week that requiring someone to purchase health insurance is unconstitutional. Zanto said SHS would inform students if the referendum passes while SHS waits for a national verdict.

The University can’t move forward with its policy until the ruling, so the vote would only serve to gauge student opinion.

“Basically, we’ll just continue an educational campaign over the course of the next year to inform people about what the rates are, how the mandate would affect most insurance rates, the quality of the product and the availability,” Zanto said.

Elections Rules Commission (ERC) Supervisor of Elections Andrew Uhlir requested that the ERC meet with legal counsel to decide if the topic would be on the presidential ballot.

“We’d like to get a legal opinion if it can get onto the presidential ballot, but most likely, we want it to be separate,” Uhlir said. “There would be three ballots: one for president, one for Senate and another one for amendments and referendums.”

SHS currently estimates the cost of the University’s mandatory health insurance coverage at $1,500 for all students, with or without financial aid. However, that figure may change, Zanto said.

“That’s what the price is at this year,” she said. “In two or three years from now, we can’t quote at what a price might be. But it would be the same if you were on financial aid or if you weren’t on financial aid.”

Because the price may rise or fall in coming years, SHS does not want to release a definite number, Zanto said.

SHS will continue to promote the referendum on campus and online on Facebook, YouTube and various blogs. Zanto also said SHS would do its part to get students to vote.

“I think we’ll be doing a ‘get out the vote’ campaign to really get people to the polls,” Zanto said. “We really want to see the percentage of voters go up.”