Many College Students Forgoing Health Insurance

By Staff
May 4, 2009

Many college students do not have adequate health insurance or are forgoing it entirely, and the situation is being exacerbated as more people lose jobs and their health benefits.

The New York Times reports that according to the Government Accountability Office, about 20 percent of college students don't carry health insurance. Insurance experts explain that since most college students are young and healthy, many are tempted to manage without health plans.

Yet such a decision can be disastrous when an unexpected health crisis occurs. California State University Northridge's student publication, The Daily Sundial, relates that when 22-year-old Mary Ann Yezadzhyan was involved in a car accident, she had no health insurance and ran up medical bills totaling $30,000. Since her father owns a small business and her mother's job didn't provide health insurance, she could not receive health care through her parents.

"I knew I should have it and my mom would always say do it," Yezadzhyan said. "But I always put it behind my ear and I never got to it and it was kind of bad on my part."

According to Louis Rubino, an associate professor in health administration at CSAN, many college students don't qualify for health insurance at their jobs or can't afford to pay for it. "More and more businesses, because of the fact that there is this economic crisis, are not offering insurance to people that are not working full time," Rubino said, "and there is no law that will prohibit them from doing this."

Some institutions of higher learning are addressing the issue. The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports that a state task force is considering mandatory health insurance for students at all public universities. Currently, Florida State University requires full-time students to show proof of health insurance or purchase a university health plan, and this policy may expand to other universities.

According to the College Health Association, nearly all private schools require health insurance, and 35 percent of public universities required it in 2007. While supporters point out that health care for students is essential, and spreading the risk to more students will ultimately lower the premiums for everyone, others are more skeptical.

"I think a lot of students wouldn't be able to attend college because of the costs," said Laura Livigne, a sophomore at Florida Atlantic University.

Additionally, The New York Times advises families to be cautious about college health plans. Some limit the number of doctors' appointments, prescription drugs, length of hospital stays and maximum benefits.

"It varies from state to state and college to college," said Sandy Praeger, the insurance commissioner of Kansas and chairwoman of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners' health insurance committee. "Limited coverage is still better than no coverage, but it's important for parents to understand these limitations before they sign up."

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