Driving Change in Higher Education.

MnSCU reexamines student health insurance options

By Jessica Medearis
MSCSA Associate Director

For years, Minnesota’s community and technical colleges have offered students the option to purchase health insurance. As the federal Affordable Care Act is implemented, the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) system is reconsidering how to offer health coverage to students. Currently, students at most MnSCU institutions have the option of having private insurance, purchasing the policy offered by the system through United Healthcare Student Resources, or going uninsured. The “voluntary” plan offered through United Healthcare Student Resources has very low enrollment. Less than 300 students were enrolled in this plan in 2011, compared to the 95,547 full-time students in the MnSCU system. The students that do enroll in this plan have criticized the coverage as high in cost and low in benefits. Student coverage costs about $2200 per year, with family coverage costing an additional $7,500 or more each year. United Healthcare Student Resources attributes these issues to the low volume of students enrolled in the plan.

Students at a handful of MnSCU universities are required to carry insurance in order to enroll each semester. These students can either purchase a policy through United Healthcare Student Resources or provide information to the school about a private policy they hold. International students studying in Minnesota at one of MnSCU’s colleges or universities are required to carry a policy purchased through MnSCU and United Healthcare Student Resources, regardless of whether or not they have alternative coverage in the United States or in their home country. Both university and international student enrollment is, unsurprisingly, significantly higher than the voluntary plan offered at the system’s colleges. As a result, the cost of the premium is lower by almost half, and the policy includes a wider array of benefits. Between all the health insurance plans offered through the MnSCU system, 3,561 students were enrolled in 2011.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires most U.S. citizens to carry health insurance, regardless of their status as students. This requirement goes into effect January 1, 2014, and those who remain uninsured will be assessed a fine, ramping up from $95 in 2014 to $695 by 2016.  The law is expected to have a significant impact on the student health insurance market, due to its requirements of higher levels of benefit, the ability for young adults to remain covered by a parent’s policy up to age 26, and the implementation of subsidies and discounts that allow individuals to purchase private coverage through state and federal exchanges. This could mean that United Healthcare Student Resources, and other similar companies, cease to offer a voluntary insurance plan for college students because the historically low enrollment won’t justify the cost of offering an ACA-compliant plan.

A taskforce of MnSCU stakeholders, including students, campus health care advocates, and administrators are convening to consider how to handle student insurance offerings in the system after 2014. The group has been meeting since early this year, and is expected to make a recommendation in early 2014. Possible recommendations could include continuing to offer a voluntary plan to most students as long as United Healthcare Student Resources or another carrier supports such a plan, ceasing any health insurance offering through the system and directing students to state and federal exchanges for coverage, or mandating health insurance coverage for all students. If the system mandates insurance coverage, students could “opt out” of purchasing the system’s offered policy by providing proof of coverage elsewhere. 

The Minnesota State College Student Association (MSCSA) has representatives on the system taskforce, and opposes mandating that all MnSCU college students carry health insurance. “While we want students to have access to affordable health insurance, we oppose mandating coverage because it would significantly increase the already high cost of college, perhaps shutting some students out of higher education altogether,” said Kelly Charpentier-Berg, President of the MSCSA. Charpentier-Berg said that it is premature to make a decision to mandate coverage before students can fully understand what options exist on the state exchange, MNSure, and that MSCSA would instead like to see the current offerings continue for another year before a decision is made. 

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