Colleges say new law puts student health plans in jeopardy

Colleges say new law puts student health plans in jeopardyMany college and university officials are concerned that a new health law will put college-provided student health plans in jeopardy. According to an Aug. 12 letter sent to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) by the American Council on Education, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act includes provisions that could make it impossible for colleges to provide students with health care coverage.

The letter, specifically sent to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, addresses two primary issues in the act, signed into law in March. The first involves the "individual mandate" requirement, which says that individuals must have "minimum essential coverage." According to the letter, many student health plans -- traditionally only active during the school year -- don't meet the minimum requirement. The American Council on Education offers amendments to the law to ensure that college-provided student health plans are considered "minimum essential coverage."

The second issue outlined is "insurance market reforms," where the letter states concerns about being required to supply health insurance to non-students (although as reported by Kaiser Health News (KHN), critics say that this is highly unlikely).

So how will this impact students? According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), many students won't go through college-provided student health plans, anyway. A 2008 study by the GAO stated that 67% of students were insured by employer-based plans, 20% of students were uninsured, and only 7% were insured through individual market plans, which include college-provided student health plans.

But for students who take the health plans from colleges, it's possible that premiums will rise. Steven Bloom, assistant director of federal relations at the American Council on Education, told KHN that if the student health plans are considered "individual" plans instead of group policies, the premiums will go up, since group policies tend to get a better rate.

At the moment, this is still a gray area. The letter asked the HHS to clarify the various issues to help colleges negotiating contracts with insurance companies. As KHN reported, the HHS has received the letter and, according to spokeswoman Jessica Santillo, "looks forward to sending a response."

School-based health care policies have been scrutinized by various professionals and, as previously reported by KHN, often are rated poorly for not offering significant coverage. Bryan Liang, executive director of the Institute of Health Law Studies at California Western School of Law in San Diego, told KHN that student plans shouldn't be offered any special protections in the new law. In a letter to Sebelius, Liang wrote that the student policies "financially benefit the school and their insurance company partners over the student" and "are poor in coverage and may violate consumer protection law and public policy."

Should the law be amended for student health plans, or should students avoid getting these plans altogether? Comment below.
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