College Students Are Health Care's Invisible Minority: Health Care Reform Bills Fail to Address the Up to 5 Million College Students Who Lack Health Insurance

By Hernandez, Arelis | Diverse Issues in Higher Education, October 15, 2009 | Go to article overview

College Students Are Health Care's Invisible Minority: Health Care Reform Bills Fail to Address the Up to 5 Million College Students Who Lack Health Insurance


Hernandez, Arelis, Diverse Issues in Higher Education


Without health insurance, University of Maryland senior Susana Sagastizado gets nervous if her nose begins to run or her forehead starts to feel warm. They are all bad signs, she said, of an illness she can't afford--literally.

Luckily, the university's health center provides care at a reasonable price, so Sagastizado can be seen and pay for a flu shot using income from a part-time job. But if she does get the flu, the 21-year-old's good fortune could end.

"I worry about it a lot, it's always in the back of my head," Sagastizado said about not having insurance. Her parents can't afford to have her and her two brothers on their insurance without losing their home. "I feel anxious especially when I'm sick. You always think of the worst-case scenario, that you might have to go to an emergency room."

College students like Sagastizado have become the invisible minority in the national health care debate, as millions--middle-income and students of color especially--go without coverage. In the midst of President Barack Obama's campaign to generate support for health care reform, experts interviewed by Diverse say college students are being left out.

Though often considered the most vibrant and healthy class of privileged Americans, postsecondary students have serious short- and long-term health and financial issues, according to a June 2009 report by a group of college health professionals called Lookout Mountain Group.

"College students have a higher propensity to be uninsured for longer than other young adults," said Stephen Beckley, a student health insurance consultant. "They use an impressive amount of health care, not unlike other groups."

Jim Mitchell, the director of student health services at Montana State University, said when he read Sen. Max Baucus' (D-Mont.) health care bill from the Senate Finance Committee, he was disappointed.

"They are assuming college students and young adults are the same, and they think the solutions they are coming up with for people under 30 will also work for college students," said Mitchell, who helped author the Lookout Mountain report. "They are a unique population and they need to be looked at as an individual group."

In the legislative health care reform bills, there is little language addressing college students specifically, but the Baucus bill does include a controversial "young invincibility" policy, requiring Americans 25 and younger to purchase "catastrophic" insurance in addition to comprehensive insurance. Since young adults, ages 19 to 29, represent one of the largest uninsured groups, bringing them into the coverage risk pool could spread out costs to subsidize older Americans.

But the American College Health Association, an advocacy and leadership organization for college and university health professionals, said low premiums don't make up for higher deductibles college students can't afford in the bill.

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