College and universities should start now to research and plan how to ensure students have health insurance before the requirement to buy coverage starts in 2014 under the Affordable Care Act, President Stephen Jordan says.
“The individual mandate will hit low-income students hardest. Trying to make limited funds—income, federal or state grants—stretch to cover both insurance and educational costs will be tough,” Jordan wrote in an article published in AGB Trusteeship Magazine.
“As educators, we want their priority to be education, so we may have to help solve the insurance conundrum,” he added.
Jordan noted that students will have four health insurance options: receive coverage under their parents' health insurance until age 26 or through their employer; qualify for Medicaid; purchase insurance through state-sponsored insurance exchanges, or acquire insurance offered through their school.
“These last two groups of students are the ones we need to be concerned about, especially if our student population is primarily lower income and reliant on public educational funding,” he said.
Jordan was asked why not let students rely on the insurance exchanges for coverage.
“This would be the easiest course if it were the most cost-effective for students,” he said. “The Affordable Care Act prescribes four levels of coverage: platinum, gold, silver and bronze, and the bronze level cannot cost less than one-third the amount of the platinum level. College plans may offer enrolled students policies at lower rates than this 3:1 ratio.”
Knowing that students might have to choose between education and insurance, “it seems clear that we need to creatively approach making it possible for them to have both,” Jordan said.
“The same kind of thinking that makes it possible to maintain operations in a down economy must be applied to student health insurance,” he said. “One possibility may be to form a buying consortium with other institutions, perhaps through a regional interstate education compact. Creating a larger pool will lower per-student insurance costs. Another possibility may be to recruit community partners, such as hospitals or large medical practices, into a network providing health care services for students.
“Each institution must find an option to fit its circumstances best, but now is the time to be doing it. The gap year we have between now and 2014 will go quickly.”
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