Health care reform leaves students with concerns


Information provided by The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation’s Health Insurance Coverage of the Total Population.

Cameron Gorman

The possible repeal of the Affordable Care Act is not likely to affect prices in Kent State’s Student Health Insurance Plan — but it may change what is covered.

Since 2015, Kent State has made health insurance available to its students through UnitedHealthcare Student Resources, switching from its previous provider.

“The previous Aetna Health Insurance policy changed to UnitedHealthcare Student Resources as the result of the RFP (request for proposal) process, not due to changes in the standards of ACA (Affordable Care Act),” said Melissa Engler, an account clerk at University Health Services.

This plan covers the Affordable Care Act’s, widely know as Obamacare, essential benefits. Julie Volcheck, associate director of University Health Services, said these benefits include “ambulatory patient services, inpatient hospital services, maternity and newborn, prescription drugs, laboratory services, mental health and addiction treatment and preventive services.”

The act, enacted in 2010, was created to lower the cost of health care, mandate certain patient protections and provide a specific list of required coverage items for the insured — as well as require individuals to be covered or face taxation.

With the possible repeal of the act, questions and concerns are abundant in regard to health care coverage and what might change — especially because President Donald Trump has not yet released a replacement plan.

“I think it’s very close to being repealed. I think there’s no reason to believe that Republicans, particularly Republicans in Ohio, would not repeal it. I mean, they’ve said they wanted to repeal it, so the president … has committed himself to repealing it … I would be really surprised if it continued,” said political science professor Mark Cassell.

Cassell said the repeal would mean premiums will likely increase again, with insurers deciding who can and cannot obtain coverage. Premiums will go up without the individual mandates of the act to require purchases — with close to 60 million Americans left uninsured. It will also mean that the minimum coverage requirements could change.

“If the ACA goes away … it’s very likely that some people who took one of the plans under the ACA will continue, it’s just that … we can expect that the costs of those premiums are going to jump, pretty significantly. So, whether people end up going back to being uninsured or opt to continue on the insurance programs they bought through the ACA is sort of unclear,” Cassell said. “But it’ll be a lot more expensive for them, no doubt.”

For students at Kent State, the available insurance plan will not change, according to Volcheck, unless a new law would require a change in policy, different from the Student Health Insurance Policy (SHIP) currently in place.

“The SHIP policy is reviewed often and we plan to go out to bid through a formal RFP process,” Volcheck said. “The RFP process ensures we remain competitive and procure the best policy for students. We need to consider the coverage and the premiums to make sure students receive the best value in their health insurance policy.”

For international students, the coverage isn’t optional, unless they provide an alternative form of insurance.

“Per university policy, 4-15, international students are required to have health insurance,” Volcheck said. “International students are automatically enrolled in the Student Health Insurance Program’s plan. International students may waive the health insurance fee if the student is either fully sponsored by their government or has U.S. employer group health insurance and their health insurance coverage meets the minimum coverage requirements.”

For some international students — such as freshman physics major Bhavna Kakkar, who purchased insurance through the school — requirements have been helpful.

“I think it is good for (the) school (to be) requiring health insurance from us international students,” Kakkar said. “As an international student, it is good to have a backup in case we get some kind of health issues, since most of us aren’t familiar with the hospitals (and) all. But it is also essential that the health insurance would cover most of the big health related problems, so that us students wouldn’t have to worry about spending loads of money in hospitals in such cases.”

For students receiving coverage through the school, concern about price changes can be rooted in uncertainty surrounding the repeal.

“I honestly do not know much about (the act’s) issues, but yes, I am worried about the ever increasing rates. As an international student, especially belonging from India, where 68 Indian rupees is equivalent to 1 USD, I always have to pay equivalent to Indian rupee,” Kakkar said. “I don’t appreciate the fact that international students already have to pay more than American students, and the rates are getting even higher. This would make difficult for not only international students, but also for native students to (come) up with the expenses, while continuing their higher education in colleges.”

Within school-based insurance, though, prices are unlikely to change — even with the act’s repeal. Student plans were not part of the competitive insurance marketplace and will most likely not be affected by rising premiums.

However, this could mean that international students may have to meet different coverage requirements than before if they choose to present a waiver service instead of enrolling through the school, and these outside insurance plans could be subject to an uptick in price.

What may change, however, is the coverage itself. UnitedHealthcare may simply not have to adhere to the same standards of what basic health care coverage entails.

Previously, the plan was provided through the school, counting as qualifying basic health coverage under the act, according to Students using the school’s plan were considered to be covered under the act and were not taxed a fee for not having insurance. Without the Affordable Care Act, there will no longer be a regulation on “qualifying” health insurance – meaning that what is covered under the SHIP could change.

“I am not sure the impact on student health insurance coverage if ACA is repealed,” Volcheck said. “Hopefully, if repealed, something else will replace ACA that still values the essential benefits (as outlined in the current act) and mandates what a health insurance policy should cover.”

Cameron Gorman is a senior reporter, contact her at [email protected].