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After Complaints, BYU-Idaho Reverses Medicaid Decision

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Low-income students at Brigham Young University-Idaho have been facing a difficult choice - pay for private health insurance or face the prospect of dropping out of school. That's because the university began barring students from using Medicaid to meet the requirement for health coverage to enroll. Now the school is apologizing and reversing that policy. Here's James Dawson of Boise State Public Radio.

JAMES DAWSON, BYLINE: Twenty-two-year-old Kaydee Edralin is a few credits shy of graduating from BYU-Idaho, the biggest university in the state. It's affiliated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, more widely known as the Mormon church. She just got married in October and planned out every detail of her family's new budget. That. Includes signing up herself and her husband under Idaho's new Medicaid expansion. But then something happened she didn't plan for.

KAYDEE EDRALIN: I freaked out. Obviously, we don't have a lot of money.

DAWSON: Just two months before the start of the next semester in January, her school told students it wouldn't consider Medicaid to be valid insurance. That was a big deal for a lot of students because in January, Idaho is set to expand Medicaid eligibility. That means lots of low-income students will be able to get the nearly free health coverage. Previously in Idaho, Medicaid had mostly been available to only pregnant women, people with disabilities and some elderly people. So the school saying it wouldn't accept Medicaid was a huge blow.

EDRALIN: Suddenly now, I'm going to have over a thousand dollars extra each semester to pay for me and my husband in insurance, when we're covered by an ACA-compliant full-coverage Medicaid.

DAWSON: Like a lot of schools, BYU-Idaho requires full-time students to have health insurance. It accepts private coverage, too, and said the student plan the school itself offers would also work. But that plan adds up to more than $1,600 annually and is skimpier coverage than Medicaid. That's not cool, says student and new dad Seth Bairett. He said the school wasn't offering a good explanation for its policy.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHILD BABBLING)

SETH BAIRETT: We weren't given any information at all until it was absolutely necessary. Our concern is that this was done purely because someone realized they could make extra money.

DAWSON: Nearly a month after changing its policy, BYU-Idaho has reversed course. Late last night, the school issued a statement to students and the media, saying it would allow students on Medicaid to enroll and, quote, "we apologize for the turmoil caused by our earlier decision."

MACAE BAIRETT: It honestly feels like I can breathe again.

DAWSON: That's MaCae Bairett, Seth's wife.

S BAIRETT: Seventeen hundred dollars we're basically getting back.

DAWSON: The reversal comes as the Mormon church wouldn't back the university, referring all questions to the school. BYU's main campus in Provo, Utah, also wouldn't comment, saying they would still accept Medicaid. As for Kaydee Edralin, the student who's set to graduate next year, she was at home doing laundry and checking her inbox when she saw a new email pop up.

EDRALIN: Then I opened it. And I was like - no way, no way. This isn't real.

DAWSON: She called her husband to celebrate. She had always hoped the school would change its mind, but Edralin says she wasn't sure it would happen.

EDRALIN: I wasn't ready to come face-to-face with the loans I'd have to take out. But I'm just so excited.

DAWSON: As for the next call she made after hanging up with her husband, she let her insurance agent know her family wouldn't need to shell out thousands of dollars for a new health policy next year.

For NPR News, I'm James Dawson in Rexburg, Idaho.

(SOUNDBITE OF CANYONS OF STATIC'S "BLINDING COLD, CASKET BLACK") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.