Covering the Shadow Uninsured: What Institutions Can Do to Help Ensure the Health of Their Student Bodies

Article excerpt

ALL YEAR LONG, BUT throughout the colder months in particular, health care needs inevitably arise. But for college students, particularly those in traditionally underserved minority groups, access to health care may be as slippery as the roads they come to school on.

Why? Because college students represent one of the largest groups of uninsured or those lacking access to care. According to the American Medical Association, an astounding 23 percent of these students are uninsured.

Even if they have insurance, they may not be able to access care. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports that often colleges refuse to accept a student's private health insurance. The result is that college students alone account for up to $355 million in uncompensated care costs annually. Health care reform by the Obama administration must take into account these "shadow uninsured."

ADDRESSING THE ISSUE

Since two-thirds of students have access to health insurance coverage as dependents through employer-sponsored plans, students should be permitted to use their private coverage on campus and not pay again for redundant coverage from a university. Indeed, because the GAO found that often these college-sponsored plans are inferior--with benefit ceilings as low as $30,000 and significant coverage limitations--private insurance is essential for substantive health coverage.

Some of the school-sponsored plans also do not spend an adequate amount on health care services for beneficiaries. There are even plans that spend less than half of the traditional 80 percent of the premium dollar. Such concerns and potential conflicts of interest between schools and insurers has led New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo to investigate these relationships.

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For those without insurance, schools should offer health insurance "financial aid" scholarships to allow uninsured students to purchase standardized plans using existing state law criteria for the small group or individual markets. …