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May 14, 2017

Future of Health Care Bill raises some concern among students

Josh Kellogg / Collegian

Josh Kellogg / Collegian

Embedded in the language of the 2000-page Senate Health Care Bill are policies that some student health care advocates fear could change the way universities and colleges are able to offer student health care insurance.

In a letter addressed to Republican and Democratic leaders of the House of Representatives and the Senate, the American Council on Education stated, “H.R. 3590 threatens the ability of colleges and universities to continue to offer students group-like insurance plans that are both high quality and low cost because it applies the individual market reforms to such plans.”

For the University of Massachusetts students, some form of health insurance is required – either a private plan often in partnership with a student’s family or in the form of the Aetna Student Health Plan.

Directly on Aetna’s website, the prices of the plan are listed, as students do not have to individually apply for their insurance since they are based off of group rates.

According to Mary Hoben of the American College Health Association (ACHA), who said that it is “important to have [student health care plans] rated on a group basis.”  Hoben argued that the alternative could be higher costs for similar quality plans.

The ACHA wrote about the concerns of the Senate health care bill’s language.  “Student health insurance/benefit plans (SHIBPs) could be interpreted as being subject to individual market rating requirements because of the way in which the group market is exclusively defined as an employer-based market of insurance.”

Advocacy groups like the ACHA want to address this language issue because of the importance of student health insurance plans for college students.

When asked about the response from those in Congress who were addressed in the ACHA letter, Hoben said that the biggest issue now was the general status of health care.  “The whole conversation seems to have come to halt,” Hoben said.

Karen Dunbar Scully of University Health Services at UMass said that right now, understanding where the debate on health care was headed just could not be done at the time being.

“It’s really speculative,” said Dunbar Scully. “That bill may never see the light of day.”

After the Massachusetts election of Republican Scott Brown to the Senate, health care reform’s future has been cast in doubt. Brown promised to be the 41st vote against the bill preventing the Democrats in the Senate from achieving a 60 vote, filibuster-proof majority that would have secured the bill’s passage.

Letters to Senate and House majority leaders to change the language of the bill were issued in January. Hoben said that she did not think the possible gap in the language of the bill was purposeful but rather that it occurred by accident.

The House Bill, according to Hoben, does not have the same language that might jeopardize group pricing on student health insurance plans.

“The House doesn’t even mention the issue,” Hoben said.

Hoben said what her organization was attempting to do was head off any future issues that might occur surrounding student health insurance plans.

The letter stated, “nothing in the Act should be construed to prohibit institutions of higher education from providing student health insurance plan[s] … The language is a helpful recognition of the important role universities play in providing student insurance.”

For now, however, health care advocacy groups seem unable even to speculate what will happen next with the bill. “Until we know how this is going to progress we don’t know how we are going to advocate for this [change in language],” Hoben said.

Michael Phillis can be reached at mphillis@student.umass.edu.

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