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Insuring students boosts cost 5%

By Gary Fineout
12/11/2009 © Health News Florida

This could become the new checklist for college students in Florida: textbooks, football tickets....health insurance.

While a requirement that each person have health coverage may eventually be enacted at the national level, some of Florida’s universities could move forward with their own mandate in the months to come.

 

Some had been moving in that direction when state legislators enacted a moratorium that expires in July 2010. It applied to the 10 state universities that had not yet enacted a mandate; Florida State University already required its students to either purchase health insurance or show proof they had it.

 

Legislators said they wanted a moratorium until auditors could delve into the cost of mandates. That new report came out this week, but the conclusions may not be conclusive enough to prompt legislators to act.

 

A health insurance mandate could raise the cost of going to college by as much as 5 to 7 percent for uninsured students – as much as $1,250 a year for an undergraduate, the report says. But this cost could be partially offset by financial aid, it says.

 

Sen. Evelyn Lynn, chairman of the Senate panel that asked for the study, said she’s concerned about rising college costs. But the Ormond Beach Republican also said there’s a good chance lawmakers won't have time to deal with this issue, since they face another possible budget shortfall.

That leaves it up to the state university system, which has a task force studying student health insurance, or individual schools.

 

Legislators enacted the moratorium as a compromise instead of passing a bill sponsored by Miami Republican Rep. Anitere Flores. It would have required any universities that passed a health insurance mandate to directly bill insurers and negotiate to become part of the health care networks maintained by health insurance companies and HMOs. 
 

Officials at some schools that have yet to impose a health insurance mandate, such as the University of Florida, told legislative auditors that students need the protection.

The report underestimates the potential costs and difficulty of finding health care for those who are uninsured, wrote Dr. Phillip Barkley, director of the UF Student Health Care Center and Patricia Telles-Irvin, UF vice president for student affairs.

“Furthermore,” they wrote, “the report minimizes the positive impact that obtaining health insurance will have on the students’ successful completion of their education and overall well being.”

 

The roughly 300,000 students who attend the state’s 11 public universities already pay a health fee - which varies by institution - as part of their overall tuition bill. The $55.7 million that came from the health fee is used to pay to operate student health centers at each school. These health centers - which also earned $13 million in charges for health services - provide basic primary care although some also offer comprehensive services such as x-rays, sports medicine and mental health services.

 

Federal regulations require international students to carry health insurance and most schools require athletes and medical and nursing students to have coverage. But Florida universities told legislative auditors that the number of students who lack health insurance at their colleges ranges anywhere from 15 percent to 40 percent.

 

FSU enacted its health insurance mandate back in 2007. Students who show proof of their own insurance must have coverage for up to $100,000 in expenses and includes health care providers in the Tallahassee area.

 

The Office of Program Policy Analysis & Government Accountability noted that many other university systems around the nation already require students to carry health insurance. Auditors said that requiring all students to have health insurance could improve the ability of universities to negotiate for insurance policies, since it would give them a larger and healthier risk pool, and that it could cut down on the number of students who leave school for medical reasons.

 

FSU says it has seen a slight decline in students who drop out because of illness since 2007. But the University of North Florida - which has no mandate - said none of its students who dropped out for medical reasons cited a lack of health insurance as the reason.