Students: Get covered or pay up
Students: Get covered or pay up
By Andrew J. Pulskamp, CPNet Staff

For most college students, health insurance isn't something they have to deal with until they get that first post graduation gig. A real job in Corporate America, complete with health insurance forms to fill out, co-payments and deductibles. But all that's about to change... Some colleges are making it mandatory for students to not only have health insurance, but, in some cases, to buy it through the school.

"Obviously I think you need insurance, but I wouldn't want to have it forced upon me in any way, shape or form," says Bucknell University senior, Carolyn Bull. The Lewisburg, Pennsylvania coed, like many other collegians, isn't too happy about having to shell out even more money for college.

"I think that it's a good thing. ...If you do get sick you will be covered. You won't be turned away, and you can get medical attention."

Ferris State University student

Despite students' opposition, more and more schools are making it a requirement to get covered. At institutions like Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago, the University of California at Santa Cruz, and the University of Massachusetts, collegians have to either prove they have health coverage from another source - like through their parents -- or they must purchase policies through their school.

The cost to students would be an additional $240 to $600 a semester, depending on where they go to school and what kind of coverage they get. That bill would then be tacked on to their tuition.

Most student insurance policies being offered are accident and illness plans, which means dental and vision coverage is not included. An office visit to the doctor could set a student back about $20, although most insurance companies that work with schools will waive such fees if the student is treated at their campus health center.

Students on financial aid and those covered by their parents' insurance aren't required to spend the extra cash. But those who are included on their parents' policy shouldn't assume they'll never have to pay up. The face of mom and dad's health insurance is changing, and those changes could affect them directly - in the pocketbook.

Steve Caulfield, chairman of the Chickering Group, an insurance company that specializes in health care coverage for college students, says currently they are working with 89 colleges and cover about 190,000 students.

Caulfield points out that because Corporate America continues to tighten the financial reigns when it comes to providing health insurance for employees, a student's parents' policy could eventually cut them off. Here are three scenarios already taking place:

1. Student goes away to school. Mom and Dad's insurance plans begin limiting the area of coverage. This means that a student who travels a long way from home to get a degree could be denied coverage just because they live too far away.

2. Mom and Dad's insurance company reduces the age of coverage for children, cutting off college-age dependents.

3. The cost of employer sponsored health insurance continues to climb, so cutbacks are being made by companies across the country. As corporations look to save a buck, children are simply cut off from health care coverage completely.

Statistics already show that more and more students are being left without coverage under their parents' health care plan. In fact, some colleges estimate that without student health insurance, about half their student bodies would be left uninsured.

Despite the gloom and doom outlook, not all students are worried about the "what ifs."

"Well, obviously I think you need insurance, but I wouldn't want to have it forced upon me in any way, shape or form."

Bucknell University senior

Roshanda Neal, a freshman at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, already covered under her parents' policy, admits that she doesn't really think about it. "Actually the people that I hang with, we don't really discuss it."

If her parents' plan dropped her, though, she would be forced to discuss it. By law, students attending college in the state of Massachusetts must have health insurance.

At Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Michigan, where students are not required to have a health plan, Branden Williams believes mandatory insurance for students "is a good thing." He says, "If you do get sick you will be covered. You won't be turned away, and you can get medical attention."

There is another benefit for students - it could help them get their degree. According to Student Health Services at UC Santa Cruz, 22 to 25 percent of students who drop out of college there do so for medical reasons - more specifically, they can't afford their medical bills and college. "We don't want [students] using up college money when they get sick," says June Baker, an insurance coordinator at UC Santa Cruz.

Mandatory or not, on-campus health insurance could be a smart move for both schools and students.