What’s in it for me? Impact of the Affordable Health Care for America Act on students

| News Editor

As the Senate prepares for a historic debate on the House of Representatives’ recently passed health care legislation, many students are left wondering about how the proposed legislation would affect them.

On November 8, in a special weekend session of Congress, the House of Representatives approved a sweeping health care reform bill, which if passed by both houses, would create the most dramatic health care policy changes in four decades.

While many college and health policy experts contend that the bill would extend coverage to recently graduated students, the legislation seems unlikely to have an instantaneous impact on undergraduate students.

The American College Health Association (ACHA) has hired a lobbying group to help monitor developments pertaining to the health care reform legislation and forward their goals. Among other things, the ACHA is looking to include college health in “school based” and “community based” policy initiatives or programs.

Under the bill approved by the House, students can remain listed as dependents on their parents’ insurance plan until age 26. Under current law, coverage under one’s parents’ plan is kept until graduation from an undergraduate institution. For many insurance providers, dependency ends at age 23.

Bradley Stoner, a medical anthropologist and professor of anthropology at the University, praised this dependency extension.

“I think it would be good for a lot of students because then they would not have to worry about their health insurance once they graduate from college,” Stoner said. “A lot of adults are found in a circumstance where they had insurance as undergraduates. When they take entry-level jobs, many times they find themselves without health benefits. I’m hoping this plan will close the gap and provide health insurance for those undergoing the transition from college to the workforce.”

The bill’s non-discrimination provision, which bars insurance companies from denying patients insurance if they have a predisposition to illness, will have profound effects on students who graduate without individual plans and get sick.

“If the law passes, if you get sick, the insurance company has to provide insurance,” William Peck, a professor in the University’s medical school, said. “They can’t deny you for illness. The question is what are the rates that they will charge you for that insurance. That is indeterminate.”

Healthcare coverage for Washington University students, which is required by the University, is unlikely to change if the bill passes Congress. The only changes that undergraduates might experience are a slight adjustment in the insurance premium, the cost that insurance policy holders have to pay for their coverage.

“What may happen is that if all of these laws pass, the insurance sector may decide to raise premiums for the young healthy people,” Peck said.

The original drafts of the bill were aimed at setting up standards that would get rid of poor college health plans. Approximately 60 to 80 percent of colleges nationwide do not offer health plans that meet American standards.

The University’s plan already surpasses the criteria outlined in the healthcare bill. Therefore, if the bill is passed, students at the University in their coverage will see very few changes.

As there is a national primary care physician shortage, the bill will also benefit the University’s medical students. The final bill is expected to include funding for increased primary care training programs and potentially medical school loan alleviations, since many in the field worry that high rates of debt deter those interested in primary care from becoming involved in the field.

Many experts argue that the healthcare bill in itself will increase the demand for medical services and as a result, increase the supply of people wishing to be primary care physicians.

“[The bill] surely will increase the demand overall for medical services and hence [medical students] will not have to worry about finding a job,” economics professor Lee Benham said.

Overall, there are high hopes in the University community for the bill’s ability to affect the lives of students.

“I hope is enhances coverage, particularly for graduate students,” Stoner said. “Some students are covered by their parents’ health insurance and some by the University. With any luck, this change will facilitate all students getting health coverage. From what I’ve heard, if the bill passes, it will cover 94 percent of the population.”

The Senate version of the bill was released this week and is undergoing further analysis for differences from the House version.

Prior to the release of the Senate bill, the ACHA was concerned that the bill would preclude college student health centers from providing health insurance. According to Mary Hobin, Director of the ACHA, the Senate bill does not prohibit these health centers from providing health insurance.

“We were concerned in the past that the legislation may prevent student health centers from offering student health insurance, but [the Senators] did put in a statement that makes explicit that the bill wasn’t intended to affect [student health centers ability to provide insurance],” Hobin said.

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