Higher prices as Affordable Care Act may force mandatory student health care coverage

Sept. 23, 2013

Dezarae Yoder
[email protected]

The university student health insurance plan has gone through several alterations due to the requirements set forth by President Obama’s signature Affordable Care Act.

Since UCCS insurance provider United Health Care is now required to offer more inclusive coverage, the cost of the yearly plan offered through the Student Health Center has increased. Student health plans may also become mandatory down the road.

Last school year, a student was able to purchase the annual insurance for $2,338. This year, the rate is $2,810.

Students may enroll at any time but will still have to pay the rate for an entire semester’s worth of coverage.

Spring insurance enrollment will also be available for purchase at $1,112, compared to $924 last year.

Based on a preliminary comparison, this semester the Student Health Center has seen a 10 percent increase in student usage of the university health insurance plan.

“People are trying to prepare for the national mandate [that] is coming out. I think they’re aware that they’re going to need it,” said Stephanie Hanenberg, executive director of health services on campus. “We’re up 8.7 percent in enrollment, so that’s probably a factor.”

Should UCCS switch to a mandatory plan, Hanenberg predicts a steep escalation in university insurance pricing.

“Students would have been paying $1,000 more … trying to keep it affordable is important, that’s a large part of why we chose this [current] plan,” stated Hanenberg.

“Ideally you want all of your students to have insurance but financially they can’t all afford it so that’s why we’re looking at what’s best for the overall student population,” she continued.

“Because we have lower enrollment and higher usage, we have very limited options… [W]e’re on a shelf plan,” said Hanenberg.

“Shelf plan” means the UCCS insurance plan fits into a certain tier among colleges. The University of Colorado Denver also takes part in this option.

Currently, students are not required to purchase insurance. However, Hanenberg is concerned United Health Care could drop voluntary coverage, therefore making UCCS a mandatory-insurance campus.

According to Hanenberg, the university would have limited options if that were to happen. “We would have to refer students to the exchanges,” Hanenberg said.

“We’re remaining voluntary unless we can’t,” said Hanenberg, who considers staying voluntary the best option for students. “[W]e’re all focused on doing what’s right for the students,” she explained.

Under a non-voluntary plan, penalty fees would incur should students choose to abstain from either purchasing a plan of their own or remaining on their parents’ plan.

“[E]nrollment actually ends a few months after it’s opened … and if you miss a few months and get insurance in the future, you still have to pay those months of penalties when you didn’t have insurance,” said Hanenberg.

Currently, people can stay on their parents’ plan until age 26 even if they are married, attending school, eligible to enroll in an employer’s plan, not living with their parents or are not financially dependent on their parents.

The Student Health Center will continue to serve those who do not plan on purchasing insurance.

Visits cost about $30-$40 each on average, according to Melissa Kuykendall, student insurance and office assistant for the SHC. “We do our best to keep the cost down for the students, to make an affordable option for them,” she said.

“We want their health to be important to them and provide them with the most options to live healthy,” Kuykendall said. “We feel our insurance is for a great value for what it’s offering.”

Both Hanenberg and Kuykendall indicated they are committed to keeping updated on the ACA and keeping students informed as well.

“We hope to learn more after Oct. 1 so we can help students,” Kuykendall stated. “Change is … scary,” she said of the federal reforms details. “We want to learn more so we can aid students better.”

“I’m constantly reading and finding more. There is a lot of new information coming,” said Hanenberg, also stressing the importance of informed decision making.

Kuykendall also referred the unknown costs inherent in the ACA. “What we’re waiting for is to see numbers. And those numbers are not out there.”

According to a statement recently released by Connect for Health Colorado, the new health insurance marketplace for all Coloradans is set to open exchanges on Oct. 1.

“Starting in October, Coloradans will be able to learn about their health insurance and financial assistance options and shop for coverage that starts as early as January 1, 2014,” the statement read.

Patty Fontneau, executive director and chief executive officer of Connect for Health Colorado, said her organization was “awarded a $116.2 million Level 2 Establishment Grant … by the Department of Health and Human Services.”

“People will be able to go out there and search different health plans. Looking at costs, looking at services, and find the one that’s most appropriate for them and their family,” said Christopher Valentine, director of marketing and communications for Penrose St. Francis and a UCCS alumnus.

“We’re trying to make it easier to get insurance… so we hope that more people will have insurance. Most people know the cost of health care continues to rise and we need a find a way to solve that, and a way to solve that is to have more people insured,” Valentine said.

“Our healthcare costs are the highest in the world, but the quality of care is not the highest in the world,” said Valentine.

“So there’s some disconnect there. If we could get the costs under control and focus on the care part of it, I think that’s the ultimate goal of it [the ACA].”