State considers health insurance for students

by Lesley Politi on December 4, 2008

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) – Some state officials are trying to decide whether all college students should be required to have health insurance.

About18 percent of Utah residents between 18 and 34 are uninsured, the highest rate in the state, according to a 2008 Utah Healthcare Access Survey.

John T. Nielsen, Gov. Jon Huntsman’s adviser on health care, said plans for a low-cost health insurance plan for students could be presented to the Legislature in the upcoming session.

“It would be a product design that would certainly eliminate state mandates (for certain coverage areas) and have a very narrow network,” he said. The program would cover four to five types of care “that are essential to make insurance really insurance.”

The program would likely try to take advantage of existing student health centers and, in some cases, contract with local providers to create health care networks, he said.

Jim Davis, director of Utah State’s Student Health and Wellness Center, said only a small percentage of students can’t afford health care. Most simply decided not to get it.

Younger people tend to be healthier but also more prone to traumatic injuries. Officials with the Utah Department of Health’s Violence and Injury Prevention Program said 15 to 24 year olds make up the largest chunk of people hospitalized and visiting the emergency room.

“There is a concept of invulnerability, but in reality there’s not one of them who is safe,” Davis said.

Moving toward mandatory coverage for college students will require every public school to participate, said Kerry Hill, the University of Utah’s student health insurance manager.

The university learned that lesson in the 1990s when it mandated coverage as part of a three-year plan. Utah State rented billboards near its competitor’s campus, advertising cheaper education and no requirement for health care coverage.

Now the University of Utah – where 16 to 20 percent of students are uninsured – offers a plan for about $1,300 per year, about three times more than one at Brigham Young University.

“It’s really people on a voluntary plan who are sick,” Hill said. “They buy it because it’s the only insurance they could get, basically.”

Daniel O’Neill, a junior at BYU, said he’d rather not have coverage, which BYU has required since 1989.

“I would consider myself healthy,” O’Neill said, “which is kind of why I wouldn’t normally (have health insurance) because I figure I’d never use it anyway.”




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