Grads seek new health insurance coverage

A month from now, many graduating University students might find themselves without health insurance.

But if they take steps now to avoid lapses in coverage they can avoid this risk, University health officials said.

Those covered by the University’s student health benefits plan will have all summer to find a job with benefits before losing coverage. However, most students will not be so fortunate, Boynton Health Service staff said.

“Undergraduate students typically go with their parents for insurance,” Sue Jackson, Boynton student health benefits director said. “That means many will lose coverage when they graduate.”

New graduates have insurance options, but face obstacles in accessing them, Jackson, and Duncan Okello, a supervisor at Boynton’s Student Health Benefits Office said.

“Cost and understanding the coverage are the biggest issues,” Okello said.

Adam Basil, a sociology senior, said he understands these hurdles. He said he is not sure what he is going to do for insurance once he graduates.

“I’m not really familiar with the different degrees of health insurance, what’s out there or what’s covered,” Basil said. “I figure a physical is probably involved.”

For students on their parents’ policies such as Basil, Jackson said the first and safest option is taking advantage of the 1986 Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, which ensures continued coverage that would otherwise be terminated.

“Employers must give employees up to 18 months of coverage,” Jackson said.

Okello said the problem with the federal legislation is that coverage can be very expensive. The student must pay for the portion of the premium that the employer previously paid, he said.

A cheaper option might be individual short-term health insurance.

“Short-term products are designed to fill in the gaps in coverage,” Blue Cross and Blue Shield spokesman Karl Oestreich said. “Most offer 30-, 60- or 90-day coverage options.”

Minnesota state law limits how long people can use short-term insurance.

Short-term policies are generally the cheapest but will not usually cover pre-existing conditions, said Cheryl Froland, Health Partners’ manager of medicine and individual sales.

Jackson said pre-existing conditions can be anything from diabetes to asthma.

If a student has a pre-existing condition, individual health-care plans are one remaining option, Froland said.

These are longer-term policies that can be paid monthly, semiannual or yearly and will usually cover everything except pregnancy right away.

Insurers offer individual plans varying from $100 to $10,000 deductibles, Froland said.

With a $1,000 deductible, non-smokers age 29 or younger would pay $76.73 per month under a Health Partners’ plan.

If someone is having difficulty affording insurance or qualifying for it, the state offers policies that might cover them.

The state’s MinnCare program’s monthly premiums are based on what an individual can afford. But to qualify, a person must have gone without coverage for at least four months.

For those who cannot get coverage because of a pre-existing condition, Minnesota Comprehensive Health Association insurance cannot turn anyone down.

Therefore, it is typically more expensive than an individual plan, said Froland, who recommends people with these conditions stay with their current plans using the reconciliation act.

Jackson and Okello said students should start looking for insurance well before graduation because acceptance into a program often takes up to a month.

They also said students should research the reconciliation act option first because it is a sure thing.

“Otherwise, just call the insurance company, the big ones, and say ‘I’m interested in individual medical coverage,’ ” Okello said.

Boynton offers services to students who need guidance in finding the right insurance fit.

“The hardest part for students is trying to compare apples to apples,” Jackson said.