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Student healthcare in the USA; a growing concern

Posted on Apr 10, 2008 by Sergio Ulloa ()


student healthcare in the USA, a growing concernOne of the biggest issues facing modern America is the fact that large portions of the population are underinsured, an no where is this more evident than within the nation's tertiary student community. In fact, it's not just underinsurance that is an issue; it's the total lack of health insurance within 20%, almost 1.7 million individuals, of the American student population that is so worrying.

Even among those college students that are covered by some form of health insurance the prevalence of underinsurance is staggering. 31% of part time students (those attending college for less than 8 hours a week) and 18% of full time students in the USA have insurance coverage that is less than comprehensive. To illustrate, many colleges and universities in the United States obtain plans for their students that have relatively low coverage limits; Ohio University, for instance, provides a plan with a maximum benefit of US$ 50,000 per medical condition per year. This is in a country with the highest average medical costs in the world, so it doesn't take much of an imagination to see that a coverage limit of $ 50,000 isn't going to go very far in the event of an individual developing a serious condition, such as cancer.

Of course the schools say that they're not to blame, and that the problem is in the fact that insurance premiums (especially with domestic American insurers) tend to get more expensive each year, and that by obtaining these lower coverage limits the educational institution is actually helping their students by saving them money. In this regards many schools have these group policies, but it is up to the individual students as to whether they purchase it (the only variation to this rule is with regards to international students who are forced to obtain a university insurance plan prior to starting classes). Only 30% of the 4,182 tertiary education institutes in the USA require full time students to obtain health insurance, and just over half these institutions actually have any student healthcare plan at all.

Where colleges and universities in the US actually do have health insurance plans in place these often provide only the most essential coverage. Exclusions placed on pre-existing conditions, emergency evacuation, specialist consultations, and even out-patient treatments in some cases lead to high priced (US$ 918 per year at Ohio University) plans that afford students very little in the way of actual medical protection. On top of this is the issue that if a student does develop a serious medical condition that would require them to reduce their course load, they will no longer be provided, in the majority of cases, with the full time student plan, even though, through no fault of their own, they were a full time student prior to the sickness or injury.

students reading in the lawnThat however, is a situation that may change. Senate Bill 1168 has been passed with the aim of providing 'full time coverage' to seriously sick students who are unable to attend classes full time for up to 12 months after the condition originally emerges. Known as Michelle's law, the bill is aiming to support this large portion of the US population that is currently deemed to be 'high risk'. However, there needs to be a reassessment of the American healthcare system as a whole and not just in regards to the student population. Outside of this fairly separated community millions of Americans are either uninsured or underinsured leading to the fact that medical treatment and sickness are the number one cause for an individual claiming personal bankruptcy in the USA.

There are other options, especially with regards to foreign students in the country. With the emergence of a strong international health insurance industry (as opposed to the local/domestic market) many major insurers have come to the realization that students deserve quality protection as much, and possibly even more, as the rest of society. This has lead to the creation of specialized 'international health insurance student plans' giving individuals around the world the security that they need in order to get the education that they deserve.

Despite this development of customized international student plans however, and the creation of senate bill 1168 the US is facing a serious crisis. It is a situation that needs to be examined further.

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