For Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs Alan Kent, endless political discussions on health care reform can be boiled down to one question asked during September’s CNN Tea Party Debate at the Florida State Fairgrounds.
Republican presidential candidates stood at their lecterns as moderator Wolf Blitzer asked Ron Paul what should happen to someone who has not purchased health insurance, yet is in need of medical attention. Someone in the audience shouted, “Let them die.”
“So that’s the debate,” Kent said. “Should we force people to buy health insurance? Some people believe that this is America and you shouldn’t force people to do anything, but then you have to live by those consequences. So, if someone’s in a car accident on the highway and they don’t have health insurance, do we just let them die on the side of the road, or do we bring them in to the emergency room and treat them?”
It’s a question that doesn’t have an easy answer, Kent said.
The Affordable Care Act, which was signed into law March 2010 and is now coming into effect, requires all U.S. citizens to have health insurance by 2014 or face tax increases, with some exemptions, according to whitehouse.gov. Yet, USF’s initiative to mandate that all students purchase health insurance has now been “taken off the table,” Kent said.
In February, Student Health Services used the Student Government election ballot to gauge student opinion on a policy that would make health insurance an enrollment requirement.
The policy, which was rejected by students, would have allowed those without health insurance to include it in their cost of tuition, meaning scholarship money and financial aid could be used to pay for a plan. Those who already had health insurance wouldn’t have been affected by the policy, Kent said.
“It’s clear that the student body, at this point, despite our efforts to educate them, is not in favor of it,” he said. “And I understand that, because it’s another charge, another cost. Tuition has gone up, fees have gone up (and) if we mandate health insurance, that’s another cost. For some people, there’s not enough financial aid to cover their costs now. “
Susanna Perez-Field, office manager of Student Health Services, said the University conducted a National College Health Assessment that surveyed 1,100 students. Based on the data, roughly 22 percent of undergraduate and 13 percent of graduate students are uninsured.
“What this means is that we have, probably, 10,000 students on campus, at least, that have no insurance,” Kent said.
Yet, mandating health insurance is not the only solution to lowering costs.
Currently, only 330 students have voluntarily purchased USF’s health insurance plan, Perez-Field said, in addition to about 2,000 graduate, medical and international students who are either required to purchase the plan or are offered coverage “as part of their contract.”
Likewise, “utilization costs haven’t been as high as they were for the past two or three years,” Perez-Field said. In 2010, USF’s health insurance increased in cost from $1,600 to $2,400 per year with a 140 percent loss ration, Kent said. Because the students who purchased the plan usually used it frequently, UnitedHealthcare paid out $1.89 for every dollar they received from users.
Now, Perez-Field said USF’s loss ratio is about 55 percent, less than the 80 percent insurance companies usually anticipate, and plans cost about $1,806.00.
Kent said he hopes the new data helps the University negotiate lower insurance rates in the future. For now, USF will watch the Affordable Care Act to “see if that impacts things.”
Though the act implements many reforms, Kent said the one that will benefit students the most is the ability to stay on their parents’ insurance plan until age 26, an option he said is “definitely still cheaper” than trying to purchase a plan.
“I would like to believe that, if that plan goes into effect and students would have to be covered, that more of them would sign up for the (USF) plan, which hopefully would reduce the rates,” Kent said. “But we can’t predict that.”