Report: 1.7 million students uninsured

A newly released report has revealed that 20 percent of college students (about 1.7 million) are without health insurance, emphasizing the need for health-care reform in the United States.

The report, which was published in March 2008 by the Government Accountability Office, was submitted to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. It showed that 80 percent of students were insured in 2006, with 67 percent covered by employee-sponsored plans.

The GAO report pointed out that most students were covered on their parents' plans as dependents, but would no longer be insured once they turned 21. Other demographics more likely to be uninsured were non-white, part-time and lower-income family students.

In an effort to increase the number of insured college students, colleges and states are taking measures to make insurance more accessible. Some states have started to require students to have a health plan, while others have increased eligibility for students to remain dependents on parents' plans.

Approximately 5 percent of the colleges included in the study required their students to have health plans and an average of 57 percent offered insurance to students. The premiums for the plans ranged from $30 to $2,400.

Heidi Levine, director of Student Health and Counseling, said that "it is challenging to get a hard number" for the amount of students at Geneseo who are uninsured because, although the information is collected on incoming students, situations may change year-to-year.

Levine said that most services, through the mandatory and voluntary student health fees, are covered by Lauderdale Health Services, but issues arise when uninsured students need to have lab testing or see a specialist.

"Most students are under some kind of plan," Levine said, but acknowledged, "We do regularly see students who are uninsured."

Like over half of colleges in the U.S., Geneseo has worked with an insurance agency, Niagara National Life and Health Insurance, to put together a plan for students. The cost for the plan this year was $1,748. The plan was implemented to provide coverage for the uninsured and those who may have insurance, but are not adequately covered or whose plans do not offer coverage in the area.

"Because [the plan] is not required, very few students purchase it," explained Levine. "Those who do purchase the plan often have medical histories and therefore a process called adverse selection occurs."

Since the students who do utilize the plan make claims very frequently, the "premium has sky-rocketed," Levine said.

"If the college required [students to have health insurance], a large pool would start, and the cost would be cut significantly," she said. "No situation is perfect, but it would substantially increase the number of students on campus who are insured."