Health Care Choices Risky

Brittany Hayes, Reporter

The Affordable Care Act is prompting many traditional and non- traditional students to search for new health insurance options, including those offered by colleges and universities.

Misericordia is the only college in the surrounding area that does not offer a student health plan. Kit Foley, Vice President of Stu- dent Affairs, said the university has never offered a health plan to students but rather refers them to insurance plans that serve the surrounding areas.

Paul Adams, Vice President of Student Affairs at Wilkes University, said Wilkes requires all resident students, student athletes and international students to provide verification of medical insurance at the time of enrollment. If those students do not have insurance of their own, they are able to purchase a plan through the university.

In addition, Wilkes offers a health insurance plan for alumni.

King’s College also offers student plans. Robert B. McGonigle, Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students, said King’s offers an alternative health plan for students unable to receive insurance through their parents. This coverage, on average, costs students $1400.00 per year.

Health Care Management professor Dr. Ron Petrilla said the sheer size of a university may enable it to negotiate favorable rates for members.

“[Misericordia] may able to use its purchasing power to negotiate with insurance companies to lower the cost,” Petrilla said.

But Petrilla warned that school plans are not always a good alternative to private insurance.

“Some plans that are school plans only cover students while school is in session,” Petrilla said.

Many students are instead investigating options under the Act, which allows people without medical insurance to choose a plan and enroll online. They also have the choice of taking no action and opting to pay a penalty.

After entering some personal information, the site gives students a quote on insurance available in their area of residence.

These plans are broken up into levels, explained Dr. Allen Minor, Director of Health Care Studies.

“There are different levels, from a basic plan to the platinum level of coverage. Each level – silver, gold, platinum – has the same coverage so you can go see the prices. You know that you are getting the same coverage for the price quoted on the exchange,” Minor said.

Most college students now have the advantage of staying on their parents’ plans until age 26. However, some do not have coverage from their parents and some adult learners do not have an employer that offers health insurance. These students are left to pay out-of- pocket for their insurance, and this can be costly.

Students who opt to go without insurance are required to pay a $90 fee for the first year, but this fee can go up to $700 the following year.

Petrilla said students should consider getting some sort of basic coverage rather than opting to pay the fee.

“Explore all of your options, as something is better than nothing. Most students are still of an age where they feel they are relatively healthy, and they are gambling on that,” Petrilla said.

Petrilla said it doesn’t take a serious accident to set someone back financially, but an average illness can be very expensive.

“They have the mindset that they’re healthy, young and in relatively good shape, but things go around and you need to be prepared for your garden variety cold and flu. You can pay $250 to $1000 out-of-pocket to treat that,” Petrilla said.

Typically, students without an insurance plan have to look for plans that are affordable – and accepted by local hospitals.

The average cost of an insurance plan from Geisinger is about $200.00 monthly, but that includes a yearly deductible of nearly $6,500. Similarly, Blue Cross Blue Shield offers plans from $250.00 a month with a yearly deductible of up to $6,300.

Minor said students with high deductible plans are relatively healthy and might only have to visit a doctor a few times a year.

“If you’re well and you’re not likely to need care, then go for the cheapest plan because you’re not going to use it very much. If you’re spending $100 to $200 for an office visit from time to time, then you don’t want a high deductible,” Minor said.

Another variable to take into consideration is the co-pay. Co-pays are amounts students must pay out-of-pocket for an office visit or medication. Co-pay for the standard Geisinger plan is as much as 50 percent of the total cost.

A Blue Cross Blue Shield plan includes no co-pay until the deductible is met. So until the $6,300 deductible is paid, students will have to cover all expenses on their own.If paying a few hundred dollars monthly doesn’t seem feasible, students might see if they qualify for Medicaid, a government program, which provides health insurance at a lower cost.

Students can apply for Medicaid by going to www.medicaid.gov and filling out a questionnaire about their income and living situation. Confirmation – acceptance or denial – is immediate.

Minor said a student who has a relatively low or non-existent income should qualify to receive some sort of aid from this government-run program. Petrilla said Medicaid can greatly benefit some non-traditional adult learners as well.

“A single mother attending school, probably working, but the employer doesn’t have insurance – the kids might be covered by Medicaid,” Petrilla said.

Minor said when health is on the line, it is sometimes reasonable to take drastic measures such as moving to a state that offers higher quality Medicaid.

“Look at the exchanges and see if you qualify for Medicaid. Move to a state that provides the expanded Medicaid coverage. That’s pretty drastic, but it’s an option.”

Students might also seek a job that provides some medical coverage or enough disposable income to pay for care out-of-pocket.Petrilla said students should think about the possibility of taking time to obtain their degrees if it means they can keep a job that will pay for insurance.

“If you can keep a job that covers [health insurance], grab it, even if it means taking longer to obtain your degree. You can’t not think about these things because one good illness can turn things around for you in a hurry. You’re not invincible – something can really hurt in the pocket but also change whether or not you graduate as well,” Petrilla said.
Students who are still on their parents’ insurance plans are also running into trouble on campus because some out-of-state students’ insurance plans are not compatible with the hospitals or doctors located within the Wyoming Valley. Students have to pay out-of-pocket for medical emergencies or travel hours home to receive the care that they need. This can become a serious problem for a student who does something even as simple as rolling their ankle.

The lack of crossover between plans means a simple injury can cost thousands of dollars if the student’s insurance is not honored. Petrilla said students must double- check with their insurance agencies to make sure coverage is honored by local providers.

Students without medical insurance should also look into services on campus, including flu shots and other vaccines. Petrilla said a simple vaccine can run up to $150 without insurance to cover it.

MU offers other preventive measures such as hand sanitizer, which is located in every building to prevent the spread of illness. The university also recommends students go to the Health and Wellness Center if they fallen ill and can be easily treated.

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