Student health plan reform

On Feb. 9, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services proposed regulations that would require colleges and universities that provide student health insurance to comply with specific provisions of the Affordable Care Act.

Signed in March 2010, the Affordable Care Act focuses on reforming the private health insurance market in order to provide more efficient and affordable coverage for Americans. Colleges and universities currently have the option to exempt themselves from the provisions of the Act and limit student benefits.

Under the proposed regulation, students would be ensured the same rights and protections provided to all Americans under the act. Although its reception by colleges is unclear, the regulation stands to improve health care for students.

Key provisions of the act ban insurance companies from denying coverage because of pre-existing conditions and lifetime coverage limits; companies cannot cap the amount spent on student plans. Insurance companies also cannot drop an enrollee's coverage if he gets sick or due to an unintentional mistake on an application.

About 2,000 colleges offer student health care plans and, according to a survey by the Government Accountability Office, 96 percent of the plans have an established maximum benefit. An estimated 1.1 to 4.5 million students are enrolled in such programs.

Geneseo does not have a mandatory student insurance policy, but those interested are referred to Niagara National, a local insurance company that offers Markel Insurance Company's short-term medical plan.

"It's expensive, [but] it's adequate," said Melinda DuBois, director of student health and counseling at Lauderdale Health Center. "In the Markel policy there are limits … a pre-existing condition clause that would have to be reevaluated if the proposal is approved."

The plan costs about $1,800 per year and only about 20 students on campus opt into the program. DuBois said that if more students were to sign up for the plan, the cost would be cheaper for all students. Many students at Geneseo are covered by family plans, or carry no insurance at all.

"One of the benefits of the proposal is that students can stay on their parents' health insurance longer," DuBois said. "Because our college doesn't make it mandatory, we do have students without health insurance and that troubles us … If there's some serious injury or event, you need to have health insurance."

The Department of Health and Human Services has requested a 60-day comment period before finalizing the regulation. If passed, the regulation will not go into effect until Jan. 1, 2012. Many of the provisions will be phased in and will not become fully functional until 2014.