More universities require students to have health insurance

College students are a young and generally healthy bunch, but each year students are forced to drop out of school because of massive medical bills. On some campuses as many as 30-percent of students are uninsured. That has universities all over the country considering making health insurance mandatory. But some say it’s an extra expense struggling students just can’t afford.

Ohio State is in its third year of requiring students to have health insurance. Director of Student Health Services Dr. Ted Grace says healthcare is a necessity, and insurance makes it affordable.

“It might not be at the top with shelter and clothing and food but it’s probably in the top 5,” said Grace.

He says in the past students often failed to pay for it. There was once a time when Ohio state students could go to doctor’s out in the community and get free medical care, but with the medical system as it is now, that’s no longer possible. In the year before Ohio State instituted mandatory insurance, uninsured student’s owed the campus medical center alone $600-thousand. But Grace says that wasn’t the primary motivation for requiring insurance.

Ohio State Sophomore Jamie Bressler is waiting for a friend at the campus’s student health center. It’s place she’s gotten all too familiar with in recent months. She had a seizure on campus and now comes to the health center for regular checkups.

“I had never had another seizure in my life. I was perfectly healthy, went to doctors, checkups everything. Never knew anything was wrong and then all of a sudden I wake up in a hospital room. They tell me I had had a seizure,” she said.

Bressler says she’s fine now, and she’s almost recovered from the medical bills too. Ohio State requires all students to have health insurance, whether it be through their parents’ plan, or through a university plan that costs about $1,200 dollars a year. Bressler was insured through the university.

“You know I ended up with hundreds of bills, hundreds of dollars in bills and with student health insurance, that helped lower the cost. Whereas if I didn’t have student health insurance I would be very much in debt,” she said.

Or not in school at all. Medical bills are a common reason cited by students who drop out of college, says Dr. Glen Egelman, physician in chief at Bowling Green State University.

“They’re struggling with, do I pay this bill? If I don’t pay this bill then I ruin my credit rating. But I can stay in school. If I pay this bill then I am going to have to pick up a second or 3rd job while trying to attend college full time, or drop out. And that’s what ends up happening. It becomes a retention issue for the university,” he said.

That’s one of the reasons Egelman is trying to convince the university to require all students to have health insurance. But it’s going to be a tough sell. Past medical directors at the university have been trying to make the change since the 1980s and each time, it’s been rejected, either by the student senate or the university regents. Eagelman says many students don’t think they need health insurance. But in his first 2 years of practice at a university, he diagnosed 6 students with cancer.

“Just because you may be between the ages of 18 and 24 doesn’t mean that medical conditions can’t strike you at any time. That’s the whole point of insurance, to protect you in unforeseen circumstances,” he said.

Nationwide about 90% of private universities already require health insurance for students. Among public universities it’s only about a quarter, according to a survey by Stephen Beckley a healthcare and benefits consultant for universities. But, he says many major public universities are now considering a switch to mandatory insurance.

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