Gov. Perry vetoes health care bill

HB 103, a university health care bill which would have increased fees for students in the state, was vetoed by Gov. Rick Perry Friday.

The legislation had serious implications for patients receiving treatment at Texas universities and colleges by affecting insurance requirements and structure at student health centers.

‘Currently, Student Health Centers may file claims for students with private health insurance, but choose not to do so because of the high cost associated with filing claims with the large number of health plans that serve students,’ Perry said in his veto statement Friday.

The bill was passed by the House and Senate, and would have required universities such as UH, whose enrollment exceeds 20,000 students, to begin accepting and processing private health insurance of patients at campus health centers.

The legislation did not prevent students without health insurance from seeking care at college clinics. However, if the law had passed, colleges would have been forced into contract negotiations with at least three of the larger insurance companies in the state to begin accepting their brand of coverage.

HB 103 would also have mandated one of the plans be a ‘high-deductible’ plan. If selected, the plan would require students and parents to pay larger amounts of money out-of-pocket before coverage benefits would apply.

UH Health Center administrators anticipated the possible need to hire additional staff and were working closely with other universities with processing insurance, as well as internally with the UH College of Optometry where insurance is already accepted, to determine the final cost of health system upgrades.

Co-author of the bill, Rep. Fred Brown (R-Bryan),’ estimates 70 percent of college students in the state have health insurance coverage from either their parents or an employer’s benefits package.’

‘[The] bill creates a model of self sufficiency by mandating that health centers fund their own needs,’ Brown said, referring to a provision which stipulates that any money collected by universities providing health services must be retained solely for use by the campus health clinic.

The mission of the UH Health Center has always been to provide affordable and accessible healthcare to members of the UH community through low-cost initiatives such as a Student Health Insurance program and on-campus pharmacy.’ ‘

‘Student health care centers are designed to provide limited basic care services to students at low cost. Combined with a mandatory fee and inexpensive office visits, (these health centers) have been effective in helping students with their basic medical needs,’ Perry said in his veto statement.

In a statement released earlier this week, UH Health Center officials were empathetic regarding possible consequences of the new law.’ They predicted students could initially experience an increase in the cost of medical visits, additional waiting times due to insurance verification and possible denial of medical service by insurance companies.

‘Since most SHCs do not have the administrative and technical capacity required to do insurance billing, SHCs would need to increase staff or contract this service to a third-party administrator; either option would needlessly increase costs to students,’ Perry said in his veto.

UH Health Center officials said roughly 29 percent of UH students are without health coverage.’ ‘ For some, the services provided by the center are the first line of defense in disease prevention, education and low cost prescription drugs.

While some students are eager to learn if school fees will increase or if service options are to be limited, others think it’s a good idea to allow private coverage at campus health centers.

Engineering freshman Paul Dabney said ‘it would be easier and more convenient’ for him to use health insurance on campus.

He said the new law would make it more likely he would use campus facilities even though he ‘probably wouldn’t use it much’ anyway.

Before now, students who sought treatment at the UH Health Center were not able to file an insurance claim or pay for medication through an outside provider such as a Health Maintenance Organization or HMO.

Supporters of the new law point out that each year $6.8 million goes uncollected by state universities because those students who have health insurance are forced to go elsewhere for routine care. This includes thousands of students who live or work on college campuses and whom HB 103 would directly affect.

Criticism of the bill, overshadowed by a special legislative session called by the governor, had been mild; with most noting the law does not address the fundamental problem of students without health benefits.’

While’ student insurance programs exist, some exclude coverage of preexisting conditions or chronic illnesses like diabetes or HIV.’ ‘ Other plans expire once the student is no longer enrolled.’

According to the advocacy group Healthcare for All, only one fourth of Texans have health insurance.’ The state is home to some of the largest insurance companies in the nation including USAA and Blue Cross /Blue Shield of Texas, both based in San Antonio.

As UH proceeds with its master plan of doubling the amount of student housing, eventually accommodating over 11,000 undergraduate and graduate students on campus, officials will be forced to deal with the health care demands of an expanding campus and its surrounding neighborhoods.

School leaders rebuff the notion that processing insurance claims at large universities is yet another revenue stream to make such development campaigns plausible.

‘Delivering reasonable health care to students is important, but House Bill No. 103 would precipitate a significant departure from current practices at SHCs without appreciably improving student health or access to care,’ Perry said in his statement.’ ‘Before undertaking such a dramatic shift in the administration of these services, we owe it to students and their families to take a closer look at the overall impact.’

Perry concluded his veto statement by suggesting further investigation of Texas student health insurance by other members of the legislature.

‘I am recommending that the lieutenant governor and speaker of the House conduct an interim study to review this issue,’ Perry said.

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