A dose of reality: Health insurance fails to cover college students
“That’s not a scab on your arm, it’s melanoma, and it may have spread to your brain. Don’t mind the thousands it’ll cost for MRIs, CTs, chemo therapy and the minor $400 bill for excision of the mole just to confirm the diagnosis, your insurance will cover that.”
The patient — afraid, uninsured and unprepared to handle much else besides impending finals — never expected this diagnosis. It doesn’t seem possible. College students get mono, not cancer.
Roughly 10 percent of students at UH are enrolled in the University-endorsed student health insurance plan. That leaves roughly 35,000 students unaccounted for. A number of them are likely covered under their parents’ plans or their own commercial health plans, but that still leaves many without any form of health insurance.
Biotechnology sophomore Bonnie Scott is one of many UH students left without coverage. Scott said she has already racked up $800 and is looking to other financial options for upcoming years.
“I don’t have (health) insurance and it is a huge pain,” Scott said. “I am considering applying (for) Medicaid again because having insurance would really help.”
The 2010 Affordable Care Act (ACA) included expansion of Medicaid eligibility by closing many existing gaps in coverage. Previously, Medicaid coverage was limited to specific low-income individuals: children, parents, elderly or individuals with disabilities.
What Scott may not know is that Texas is one of 19 states not moving forward with that expansion, despite Texas’ currently having the highest rate of uninsured individuals in America with 25 percent of the state’s population uncovered. This would mean that she and others who don’t fit under the previous categories may still not be eligible for coverage.
Some students find it difficult to prioritize health care due to financial limitations while others — more fortunate for already having insurance — still worry about losing their current coverage.
Many students on campus have had to deal with a host of medical expenses that have brought financial pressure during what is supposed to be a time of pure scholarly endeavors.
Optometry graduate student Stephanie Piccolo said she is grateful for the vital treatment she was able to receive these past couple months, and said she knows it wouldn’t have been possible without her parents’ health insurance plan. The ACA allowed her and other students through the nation to still be covered under their parents’ insurance plans until the age of 26.
“I have been hospitalized twice in the last seven months, the last of which lasted 26 days,” Piccolo said. “I had several CTs, MRIs, a lumbar puncture … and ultimately surgery on a herniated disk.”
Chronic health issues that impacted her autonomic system in the middle of the school year meant Piccolo had to make quick treatment decisions — and those came with heavy price tags.
“I would (have had to) owe hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Piccolo said.
She said she hopes to find an insurance plan that will allow her the coverage she needs at an affordable rate.
Executive Director and Chief Physician of the UH Health Center Dr. Scott J. Spear explained why ongoing preventative healthcare and management of chronic illness is vital to both longevity and academics.
“Sometimes the cost of care drives people to drop out,” Spear said.
Before finances even get to be a problem, some students are caught in situations where lack of adequate care, often due to limited or no insurance leaves them in situations not conducive to their education.
“Instead of being able to manage it and stay in school, they get much sicker and (some) have to drop out (or) even be hospitalized,” Spear said.
“Instead of being able to manage it and stay in school, they get much sicker and (some) have to drop out (or) even be hospitalized,” Dr. Spear said.
While Spear is doing everything in his power and medical training to take care of students and those affiliated with the University, there are still ways in which our campus can improve in this domain.
As of August 2010, undergraduate students at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill were required to have health insurance as a condition of enrollment. A huge advantage this affords students is costs associated with having insurance, such as premiums, may be added to financial aid budgets.
With the dramatic increase in enrollment — as this was an across-system implementation — costs went down also. The UNC’s board of governors’ move to mandate health insurance was based on their goal to have “uniformly high-quality health care coverage at a much better rate,” as written in an email by the board chair, Hannah Gage.
While UH may not yet be on board with such plans, some students here are in favor of increasing access to healthcare. Education junior Hannah Endicott said she is in strong support of global health care coverage.
“I think that healthcare is absolutely a basic human right, especially when it comes to children,” Endicott said.
Social media today has introduced further complexities to this situation. Endicott said she believes that it’s important that people go beyond liking a Facebook post where someone says they are feeling better after an illness, or simply wishing they get better. She said she feels people can do more, such as supporting taxes that aid low-income individuals to get the healthcare they need.
“Although most people don’t agree with high(er) taxes … if I am ever in an unfortunate situation where I couldn’t afford it (healthcare), I would like to think I could be able to get food or chemotherapy to save my life,” Endicott said.
Global health coverage should be important to all people. This is demonstrated by herd immunity and the overarching idea of herd health.
It takes just one person to skip a vaccine or treatment for a contagious disease to spread remind us why vaccines are still important. One person skipping a doctor visit for a seemingly innocuous cough could potentially result in undetected antibiotic-resistant strains of pneumonia or tuberculosis.
People need to stop and question the politicians who lobby against measures to improve access to health care on a large scale.
Health care affords us something much bigger than the short-term treatment of disease in an individual. It benefits the health of a whole society and allows people to keep living, and with that life people can contribute to the world in whatever small or great way.
Opinion columnist Kourosh Zakeri is an optometry graduate student and may be reached at [email protected]