That slip could cost you

Is the fear of losing health insurance propelling people to grad school?

by Holly Lahd

During our precious snow day March 1, I had my first snow wipeout of the year. I’d made it off the sidewalk OK, but I’m sure others weren’t as lucky to escape without a sprain or broken bone. And while the spring melt might be coming, it’s still icy outside. So here’s my advice to all students, but especially to those of you who are graduating this spring: if you’re going to fall on the ice, fall before you graduate.

Because along with the diploma comes the graduation parties, the checks from relatives and the countdown to when your health insurance will expire.

As graduation approaches, many graduate-school bound students must make a choice between graduating from school now or later. There are pros and cons for both. But for risk-adverse students like me, the decision is influenced by another factor; namely, going to graduate school now means staying on our parents’ health insurance, while postponing it means not.

Back in the 1960s, graduate schools saw a surge in applications from young men seeking to avoid the draft to military service in Vietnam. By attending graduate school after their undergrad years, they were able to get draft deferments until school was over. Is the fear of losing health care now doing the same thing, but for both sexes this time?

More and more undergraduate students plan to eventually attend graduate school. The question becomes whether to enter right away or acquire experience in their field before applying to graduate school. In some professions, like medicine, there really isn’t a choice to make. But in other disciplines, choosing between now or later is an important one.

We’re told that it’s important to gain experience in your field and then come back to complete an advanced degree. But it’s sometimes impractical, after having acquired real-world expenses, to drop your source of income and return to school. Adding the problem of where to find health insurance just makes it all the more complicated.

Even those students who decide to take some time away from school don’t always go straight from their undergraduate years to a full-time job with health insurance benefits. If you’re an intern or temporary worker out of college, health insurance isn’t usually included in the agreement.

Some health insurance plans allow parents to cover their dependent children up to age 25 as long as they are full-time students. If you’re not covered by your parent(s)’s plan, most Universities, including the University of Minnesota, require students to have health insurance and offer a discounted rate through their system.

Blue Cross of Minnesota has caught on to the need of insuring for young adults by offering their new “Simply Blue” health plan. The no-frills insurance is meant to provide coverage for preventative care and also for catastrophic accidents. To keep costs low, the plan does not cover dependents or the costs of giving birth. Blue Cross markets Simply Blue as a “just in case” plan to protect against the occasional accident.

On the Blue Cross Web site, they post a study named the Young Invincibles Report. The study includes the real-life story of Chris, age 23. Chris was a student here at the University in 2005 and had plans to work in Australia in the fall of that year. All he had to do was make it through the summer without health insurance and he would be fine. But during a basketball game with friends, his tendon snapped and he racked up a $6,000 medical bill.

I’m pretty sure that everyone knows someone like Chris. The message we should take out of these stories is that as students, we’re not invincible. Health emergencies can happen to the best of us. Broken bones happen. Strep throat happens. Is it really desirable for our society to have 20-somethings afraid that a slip on the sidewalk could ruin their lives and plunge them into debt?

A recent poll conducted by the New York Times and CBS news shows that a majority of Americans favor guaranteeing health insurance for all Americans. And before you start typing up an e-mail to me warning of the evils of “socialized” health care, let’s first acknowledge the failures of a system where a small accident can throw you into debt and make you afraid to go to the doctor. We’re all paying right now for the failures of our current health care system through higher insurance. Our health care failure is even spawning the otherwise ridiculous premise that young adults should determine the timing of future education and career goals based on their health insurance situations.

Basing your decision to go to graduate school now or later on health care might seem extreme, but so does the idea of joining the ranks of the 47 million Americans without heath insurance when you leave the University. While you’re making your health care and future decisions, watch out for the ice on the sidewalk. It could cost you.

Holly Lahd welcomes comments at

[email protected].