Affordable care for Cougars

The UH Health Center not only offers doctor appointments to students, faculty and staff, but it also has a pharmacy.  |  Hendrick Rosemond/The Daily Cougar

The UH Health Center not only offers doctor appointments to students, faculty and staff, but it also has a pharmacy. | Hendrick Rosemond/The Daily Cougar

Insurance coverage for students will change over the next few years because of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in June to uphold the Affordable Health Care Act.

The act, which consists of a series of deadlines for health insurance reform, was signed into law in March 2010.

The Daily Cougar spoke with Patricia Gray, director of Research and External Affairs at the UH Law Center’s Health Law and Policy Institute, to learn how these changes will affect college students specifically.

The Daily Cougar: What major changes will university-aged students see with the implementation of this act?

Patricia Gray: Universities may review their own offers of insurance coverage for students when the insurance exchanges are up and running. However, that is still speculative at this point, as Texas has not made a decision about whether it will offer its own exchange or allow the federal government to create it. That decision will influence whether policies that would be beneficial and affordable to students will be available.

TDC: Does Texas have a deadline to decide whether or not it will offer its own exchanges?

PG: Technically no, but since the exchanges are supposed to be up and running in 2013, time is running out for them to do their own. The governor has said he doesn’t want any part of it, but there appears to be some behind-the-scenes communication between relevant state agencies and federal agencies about how to make this happen in Texas. In my view, it would be better for Texas to design its own since it could take into account the needs of various populations in the state — rural, urban, families with children, single adults, etc. — but there is a mechanism for the federal government to set up such a program.

TDC: How will health care coverage change for students who are under their parents’ insurance plan and for those under their own plan?

PG: Coverage for students under their parents’ plans will change in a good way. Students may stay on their parents’ policies until they are 26 whether they are in school or not, whether they are being claimed as a dependent or not and whether they are married or not. This provision is in effect now. Previously, students who left school, were no longer claimed as a dependent or got married could not be maintained on their parents’ policies. 
Students who have their own policies will see no change as long as the insurer continues to offer the policy and does not make changes to the coverage.

TDC: How will students who don’t currently have insurance or are no longer eligible to be under their parents’ plan apply for insurance?

PG: Students who don’t have coverage could be maintained on their parents’ policies or apply for coverage through the exchange once it is functioning. Until then, students may still seek coverage under a policy offered by the University or may contact independent insurance agents about coverage as an individual. If students seek individual coverage, they may want to consider a high deductible plan that would cost them a lower premium — higher out-of-pocket costs for routine care but could give good coverage for a catastrophic injury or illness.

TDC: What is the tax penalty for not having health insurance, and how long do students have to enroll in a plan before the tax affects them?

PG: The penalty for not having insurance doesn’t begin until the 2014 tax year. Initially, the penalty for a single adult will be $95 a year or 1 percent of the person’s taxable income above the federal poverty level for a single person, whichever is greater. The penalty will be added to the individual’s tax bill but cannot be enforced through liens or criminal penalties.

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