Universities opt for mandatory health insurance

Kim Thompson

Ohio University enacted it in Fall 2004; the University of Toledo started it in Fall 2003. Ohio State and the University of Cincinnati both require it, too. Miami University used to do it, and Kent State and the University of Akron only require it for international students.

The issue is mandatory health insurance for students, and it’s a hot topic at universities around the nation.

Officials at universities that have opted for mandatory health insurance say the burden of medical bills interferes with students’ ability to attend school, and it’s why they’re stepping in.

According to Ohio State University’s Web site, “This requirement was added because it was clear that a significant percentage of our students did not have adequate health care coverage, and that the lack of such insurance was causing higher drop-out rates for medical problems and related costs.”

At Kent State, domestic students are not required to have health insurance, but international students are.

John Gosky, executive director for Administration for Enrollment Management and Student Affairs, said via e-mail Kent State administrators considered mandatory health insurance for all students, but decided against it because “it would place an additional financial burden on those students with the most need.”

In January 2002, the Board of Trustees passed a resolution requiring students enrolled in seven or more credit hours to have health insurance, but it decided against the policy in March 2003, according to the Kent State Web site. Had it not been repealed, the policy would have taken effect in Fall 2003.

Gosky said Kent State requires international students to have health insurance because federal law mandates international students must maintain coverage while attending school in the United States.

Although Kent State doesn’t require domestic students to have it, some suggest students who don’t have health insurance should strongly consider getting it.

Tom Gutoskey, an agent with Affordable Health Insurance, said people without health insurance can incur expensive medical bills even for non-serious injuries, like fracturing a bone.

“You could be out Friday night and fall down and break your leg,” Gutoskey said. “If you don’t have health insurance, that could be $5,000.”

Gutoskey said when students take a break after high school or a semester off from college, it usually means they’re dropped from their parents’ plans. He said students older than 23 are typically not covered by their parents’ plans either.

Ikililou Kerim, graduate student in financial economics from Togo, Africa, agreed that health insurance is a good idea.

“I have health insurance because sometimes you can’t predict what can happen to you,” Kerim said. “If you have insurance, you for sure have to pay less. So I think it’s a good way to minimize bills.”

But other international students are unhappy they’re required to have it.

“We have to have health insurance to maintain good status for international students, but we seldom use it,” said Wenyi Cao, graduate student in chemical physics from Shanghai. “So every year we pay money, but I mostly don’t use it.”

If international students don’t purchase the university-sponsored health insurance plan, they must provide proof of outside insurance within three weeks of arriving at Kent State, according to the Web site of International Student and Scholar Services. International students who don’t maintain coverage could lose their visas and have their classes canceled.

At schools that require all students to have health insurance, a similar policy is in effect. Students must provide proof they have an independent health insurance plan or are covered by their parents’ plans. Otherwise, the students are billed for the cost of the university’s health insurance plan.

Contact medicine reporter Kim Thompson at [email protected].