Health insurance difficult issue for students

By TaylorGleason

The months following graduation are an ambiguous time for students. Most are unemployed, on their own and without health insurance for the first time.  No longer covered by policies from their parents or their schools, grads face the challenge of finding health insurance.

In a Sept. 9 address to Congress, President Barack Obama said that his health care reform plan will require everyone to have insurance, which puts a lot of pressure on recent graduates.  According to a report titled “Health, United States, 2008” issued by the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, people ages 18 to 29 years old are least likely to have health insurance.

“In the student-population age, all the way up to age 30, there is a level of [belief in] immortality and ‘Getting sick is for the older people and it’s not going to happen to me.’ Well it does happen to them,” said Perry

Steinhandler, owner of insurance company Steinhandler and Associates. Steinhandler said he has witnessed this during 30 years of work in the insurance industry and through raising two children of his own.

Steinhandler explained that currently, many students choose temporary health insurance because they can pay as little as $40 a month. However, should the student get injured or become ill while covered by a temporary policy “when you go apply for a new temporary policy, it either does not become available, or if it does become available it does not cover you for a preexisting condition which kind of does away with the idea of buying it in the first place,” Steinhandler said.

Columbia students have the option of buying insurance offered through the school with the company Gallagher Koster.

Laureen Fairgrieve, customer service supervisor at Gallagher Koster, said that for anyone under the age of 24, enrolled part-time or full-time, insurance coverage starts at $147 a month.

The plan available to Columbia students is called ACSA [American College Student Association] Injury and Sickness Insurance Plan.  Some schools have a custom plan through Gallagher Koster because they require students to have health insurance.

“With Columbia College, they don’t have their own plan so we offer them the ACSA,” Fairgrieve said.

Should students opt for school insurance, the Office of the Dean of Students facilitates those services, said Ashley Demko, receptionist for the Office of the Dean of Students. Demko said the number of students who use school insurance varies every semester and year.

Gallagher Koster offers temporary plans in which there is no contract and students can elect to buy insurance for a number of months at a time. At the end of those months the student has paid for, they can either buy more insurance or choose not to. However, each time a student buys more months of insurance, they will receive a new policy. Fairgrieve said that a preexisting condition would not be covered under a new policy if the student got sick or hurt while on a temporary plan.

Columbia students can receive health services for free from the student Health Center in the Residence Center, 731 S. Plymouth Court. The Health Center offers treatment of minor illnesses or injuries and refers students to local health centers for further care. Students must then pay or use health insurance for medical attention outside of the Health Center.

Fairgrieve said the yearly deductible for an ACSA plan is $100, but if students go to their health center at school first, the deductible drops to $50.

Students without insurance weigh their options, as the cost of health care without insurance is not only a strain on individual students, but the nation as a whole.

A 2009 article in The American Journal of Medicine reported the results of a national study on bankruptcy caused by medical costs. According to the AJM article, “Using a conservative definition, 62.1 percent of all bankruptcies in 2007 were medical; 92 percent of these medical debtors had medical debts over $5,000.”

Researchers of the AJM concluded, “The U.S. health care financing system is broken, and not only for the poor and uninsured. Middle-class families frequently collapse under the strain of a health care system that treats physical wounds, but often inflicts fiscal ones.”

Students should shop for insurance now, before the drop-off in health care after graduation.