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ELECTION CONNECTION: Student insurance expanded under Affordable Care Act

The Red and Black on October 9, 2012

Editor’s note: Election Connection is an ongoing series running on Tuesdays that reports on topics and issues pertaining to the Nov. 6 elections.

Stay the course, or repeal and replace.

Those two options have been at the forefront of the debate, as certain aspects of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act have already taken effect for college students across the nation.

“Previously, student insurance plans could have as many caps on coverage as they wanted,” said Jen Mishory, deputy director of Young Invincibles, a non-profit organization advocate group for young Americans. “If you got sick and ran up a really big bill, previously there was an internal cap of $50,000 and a cap on prescription drugs at $500. Now they have transitioned to phase out those caps, so in the next couple of years, your insurance plan won’t be able to stop covering students if they get really sick.”

The caps have now been doubled as a minimum requirement. In addition, more preventive services for reproductive health will be more readily available.

“In another year or so…there will be more and more students who are able to get birth control pills with no co-payments as a part of the Affordable Care Act,” Liz Rachun, health communications coordinator at the University Health Center, said. “It’s not for everyone yet because of certain grandfather clauses…but it’s in the process, and we are seeing more and more students who are paying zero co-payment on birth control pills, whereas before they would pay around $20.”

Students discussed the new convenience to preventive services.

“I think a lot of people don’t know how to get access to [preventive] services, so it’s good to have a more readily available opportunity or access,” Elizabeth Rutan, a junior psychology major from Baldwin, said. “I feel like a lot of students already know those things, but maybe by having it right there they’ll take the initiative to go.”

Beginning in the first presidential debate, both candidates took each other to task on the issues with health care and the government’s role.

“Number one, preexisting conditions are covered under my plan,” Republican candidate Mitt Romney said in Wednesday’s debate. “Number two, young people are able to stay on their family plan. That’s already offered in the private marketplace. You don’t have to have the government mandate that for that to occur.”

President Barack Obama responded to his challenger’s statements with how his plan will be seen in full in 2014.

“The fact of the matter is that, when Obamacare is fully implemented, we’re going to be in a position to show that costs are going down,” the president said in the debate.  “And over the last two years, health care premiums have gone up — it’s true — but they’ve gone up slower than anytime in the last 50 years. So we’re already beginning to see progress.”

The crux of the debate between the candidates is the creation of a national standard of health insurance and who is responsible for driving down costs.

The Affordable Care Act, signed into law in 2010, took aim at reducing the number of uninsured Americans, tabulated at 50.7 million, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The Congressional Budget Office, the nonpartisan agency for legislative analysis, reported in August that the health care plan will reduce the number of unemployed, but will still leave many without insurance.

“CBO and [Joint Committee on Taxation] now estimate that the ACA, in comparison with prior law before the enactment of the ACA, will reduce the number of nonelderly people without health insurance coverage by 14 million in 2014,” the report said, “and by 29 million or 30 million in the latter part of the coming decade, leaving 30 million nonelderly residents uninsured by the end of the period.”

The Census Bureau also found that 2.2 percent of uninsured Americans between 2010 to 2011 are now covered under some form of insurance coverage. People under the age of 26, under the Affordable Care Act, are able to stay on their parents’ insurance coverage.

Students discussed their ability to pay without family coverage.

“I wouldn’t be able to afford it,” Fakari Gresham, an Athens sophomore studying health promotions, said. “I don’t think I could live without it, so I’d probably rearrange something [in my finances] to help.”

Mishory said another large development will be the medical loss ratio changes under the Affordable Care Act, if it remains in place. Medical loss ratio is the amount an insurer pays out in services and coverage  compared to the total amount it receives in premiums.

“Before, insurers could make huge profit margins, and that would be reflected in the premiums,” Mishory said. “But now, they limit how much they can make off of students.”

Effective as of January 2011, insurers must make an 85 percent ratio for large group insurers – those receiving a health plan through a large employer – and 80 percent for small group insurers – those seeking it for themselves or from a small employer.

Romney said a private format, through competition, is the way to target high costs of medical procedures.

“The right answer is not to have the federal government take over health care and start mandating to the providers across America, telling a patient and a doctor what kind of treatment they can have,” Romney said in the debate. “That’s the wrong way to go. The private market and individual responsibility always work best.”

But for students out there looking to remain covered, Mishory said she believes the standard should be comprehensive and cost-effective.

“One thing that we like to see is increased access to affordable and good coverage,” Mishory said. “Now you’re going to see your peers at other colleges and your school have the same baseline coverage.”