Students slip through U’s health care cracks

According to Boynton Health Services, medical bills are the number one reason why students drop out of college.

Jessica Van Berkel

Health care coverage is mandated for University of Minnesota students, but more than 10 percent are going uninsured. Most of the uninsured are people who âÄúfind a way not to give accurate information when registering for classes,âÄù Carl Anderson, chief operating officer of Boynton Health Services, said. The UniversityâÄôs Student Health Benefit Plan, which costs $151 per month, can be waived by filling out a private insurance form. Due to the cost, the University only audits about 25 percent of waivers, Anderson said. Students are slipping through the schoolâÄôs mandate at a rate higher than the statewide percentage of uninsured. According to 2007 U.S. Census Bureau data, 91.7 percent of Minnesotans were insured. Meanwhile, medical bills are the number one reason why students drop out of college, Anderson said. To waive the plan, students must provide the name of their insurance company, health plan member ID, and companyâÄôs phone number at the beginning of the school year. When the Office of Student Health Benefits finds an error, they notify the individual and give them 30 days to acquire insurance before enrolling them in the UniversityâÄôs plan, Anderson said. The UniversityâÄôs programs, through Blue Cross and Blue Shield, are âÄúthe most comprehensive in the country,âÄù Director of Student Health Benefits Susann Jackson said. The UniversityâÄôs plan has a $3 million lifetime maximum, covers preventive care, does not have a deductible, and does not exclude based on preexisting conditions, she said. The plan can be paid for by financial aid, she said. The UniversityâÄôs mandate was implemented in 1983. Other schools, including Minneapolis Community and Technical College, and University of Wisconsin-Madison, do not have a mandate. But Madison may implement a mandate for spring semester. A t MCTC about one-third of students are uninsured. Students and recent graduates without insurance usually canâÄôt afford it, or have this âÄúidea of invincibility,âÄù said Alex Harkness, who graduated from the University in spring of 2008. Many students under 25 are covered by their parentsâÄô plan, but for students who are deciding whether to get health insurance or pay for rent; it can be a hard choice, Harkness said. Harkness, who helped create a blog called âÄòThe UninsuredâÄô while at the University, said the âÄúsheer numberâÄù of students she talked to without insurance was surprising. It was easy for students âÄúto go by unnoticed,âÄù she said. Harkness said the bigger problem is when recent graduates must pay off their bills from the UniversityâÄôs program, or when they are dropped from their parentâÄôs plan. Julie Sonier, Director of the Minnesota Department of HealthâÄôs Health Economics Program, said 18.7 percent of people ages 18 to 24 are uninsured, and 11.4 percent of people 25 to 34 are uninsured. These age groups have the highest uninsured rate, Sonier said. More students may join the UniversityâÄôs plan if the health care bill federally mandating insurance, which has passed the House and is facing the Senate, becomes law. âÄúIf they start shopping for coverage, itâÄôs going to drive more people to our plan,âÄù Anderson said.