New health care bill may improve student coverage
If the health care bill passes in the Senate, following the House of Representatives, students may see wider and more comprehensive coverage.
Under the reform plans, students would be required to have coverage, said Director for the Rutgers Center for State Health Policy Joel Cantor. There will be national standards for what is covered and a choice of plans with higher and lower cost sharing at different premium levels.
"It is likely that the plans available after reform will be ‘better' than typical student plans now," Cantor said. "The details matter and are complex."
Even if the bill passes this year, coverage expansions will not kick in until 2013, so a student now will not be able to see the benefits until they graduate, he said.
Students can expect medical coverage with their first jobs, whereas in the status quo they would not get coverage or would have substandard coverage, Cantor said.
"With the reform, the [students] would get affordable coverage, though affordable is in the eye of the beholder. But it would be much better than what they could afford before the reform," he said. "[Health care coverage] depends on the situation of the student and by state. Details matter a lot."
There are a lot of moving parts currently in the University health system and limited plans will not be allowed, he said. The coverage packages will be more comprehensive, and there will be higher annual maximum benefits.
"If you have something catastrophic happen your insurance won't run out, whereas it would now," Cantor said. "One of my graduate students had the Rutgers plan. He unfortunately had appendicitis and it burst. His out-of-pocket cost tens of thousands; that won't happen in post-reform."
He said the maximum age young adults could stay on their parents' plan will be 25 or 26 uniformly, depending on the plan, Cantor said. Right now that age is 30, but under specific prerequisites.
Employers do what they want now, but under the reform they will have to offer coverage without contributing to the premium, Cantor said.
"Staying on as a dependent on a parent's plan is likely to be a comparatively inexpensive option for many," Cantor said. "Graduate students or married students may be eligible for public subsidies to buy a plan that would make coverage more affordable. Those dependents still on their parents' taxes probably would not be eligible for subsidies."
He expects the bill that just passed the House to be different than what may ultimately pass.
"There is uncertainty about the public option. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the Senate should include a public option with an opt-out," Cantor said. "Those who support the public option say ‘no way' to the opt-out."
He said if there is a public option in the plan it would provide less coverage.
"It's a battle that the left-leaning legislators, who said a robust public option is necessary, lost," Cantor said. "It's in the grinder now, so I don't think we will be seeing the final bill that will be debated until a week or two."
Some think the opt-out is a politically motivated move.
"The opt-out system may help the bill to pass, but it depends on where you're living," said Alex Holodak, president of the Rutgers University Democrats. "Under the opt-out system, the states will have to decide whether to opt-out or not. The Republicans are very selective about that, so it brings the Republicans to argue against states' right to choose whether to adopt the public option or not."
The danger with the opt-out system is it will water down the bill to make it not even worth it, he said.
Holodak sees it as a way to get the Republicans to make a case against states' rights.
"The public option is very vital for competition for insurance [companies] and to reduce the costs to individuals. It remains to be seen what the Senate does; the whole bill could change," said Holodak, a School of Arts and Sciences senior. "It's incredibly important that we have nonprofit-based involvement in health care choices. It's not the same format that the companies are involved in."
Others believe the Senate should scrap the whole idea.
"The health care bill is more beneficial only if you want higher taxes and more regulation," College Republicans Vice President Noah Glyn said. "College students who want to get jobs want jobs with medical insurance. But firms may be less inclined to hire people because they won't want to pay these fees to have mandated insurance."
He said it is also unreasonable for him to pay the same for insurance as others.
"For example, I wouldn't be covered for gynecological visits, but I may still have to pay for it [for women]. I understand that's how insurance works, but I should be able to pick individualized plans," said Glyn, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore.
Instead of passing this bill that passed in the House by a small margin, the Senate should be opening up the market between states, allowing individuals to buy their own insurance from other states so competition drives the costs down, he said.
"They should lower the tax for individuals. Employers are not taxed for offering their employees health insurance," Glyn said. "With the current system, you're always going [to] spend more because it's someone else's money rather than your own money."
Cantor said the Senate Finance Committee bill, which is the best indication of where the Senate is moving, costs $829 billion throughout 10 years, as opposed to the $1.2 trillion House bill that is on the Senate floor.
"[The reason it's less is that] it spends less on expanding Medicaid to low-income people and less on subsidies for private or the public coverage on exchanges for medium income, which are people whose incomes are up to four times of low-income people," he said.
The plan does not add to the deficit, Cantor said. It is financed by cutting it somewhere else in the budget or reallocating resources.
He said health care costs are a huge problem whether there is health care reform or not.
"The health plan will not add to the deficit, but it may add to it in a 20-year window from now," Cantor said. "There are lots of ifs, and it largely depends on whether health care costs can be brought under control. If costs rise continually at its current rate — which it will without reform — then it will add to the deficit."