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Student clinics may have to bill

By Gary Fineout 
4/24/2009 © Health News Florida

Responding to a move among Florida’s universities to require that all students have health insurance, the Florida House on Thursday put new requirements on university health centers. 

If the measure becomes law, the centers would have to bill insurers for services they provide to students who have private coverage. And they’d have to apply to become in-network providers for private insurers and HMOs. 
“It ensures that Florida students will have access to the health care they need,’’ said Rep. Anitere Flores, sponsor of the legislation. It sailed through the Florida House on a 111-7 margin.

“At the same time it’s good for Florida’s families, as parents will be able to reap the benefits of private insurance for which they already pay,” said Flores, R-Miami. “In the long run, our state universities should be able to lower their health service fees as they will be able to cover their costs by billing health insurance companies.” 

The bill also requires universities that require students to have health insurance to hold competitive bidding for plans the school offers. Currently, Florida State in Tallahassee is the only university that requires students to provide proof of health insurance for enrollment, but other state universities have been considering it.

During House debate over the legislation, Flores took aim at FSU, criticizing the university for forcing students to buy health insurance even when they are already covered by their family policies. 

“Their parents are paying to have their kids on health insurance because those kids come home for the weekend, they come home for the summer,’’ said Flores. 

It’s unclear, however, if Flores’ measure will become law. The Senate companion, sponsored by Sen. Steve Oelrich, R-Gainesville, has made it through just one committee.

Sen. Evelyn Lynn, chairman of the Senate budget committee that oversees universities, is pushing to have the Board of Governors do a comprehensive study of student health insurance and the health care options offered to students instead of passing the legislation. That study could look at it whether universities should mandate health coverage. 

Lynn, R-Ormond Beach, said there are concerns about the impact of the legislation, including how much it would cost universities to start billing private insurers.
“…(W)e have to do what is best for students and for the universities serving students and the study will provide the direction we need,’’ she said. 

Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee, was one of a handful of lawmakers to vote against the House bill. She said she couldn’t support an “unfunded mandate” for state universities at a time when the House budget slashes their funding. 

Students at each of Florida’s 11 public universities pay a health fee. Nine schools charge by the class load, from $4.58 a credit hour to $9.89 a credit hour; two charge all students the same amount.. The fees support operation of student health centers, which offer primary care and treatment for minor injuries. 

FSU goes further. It actually requires students who take at least six hours of classes each semester to either show proof of insurance or purchase the university-provided plan – currently Aetna but switching to Blue Cross and Blue Shield this fall.

FSU requires that the private insurance include prescription coverage and have a provider network in Tallahassee and Leon County that includes specialty, hospital and diagnostic coverage. 

The legislation is being pushed by Pat Levesque, a former top aide to Gov. Jeb Bush who now runs a foundation for him. Also, high-powered health-care lobbyists Jon Johnson and Travis Blanton are pushing the bill on behalf of the Center for Student Health and Life, a Virginia-based organization that says it is dedicated to “improving the health and wellness” of college students.

--Gary Fineout is a free-lance reporter in Tallahassee. He can be contacted by e-mail