Health Insurance For College Students

Written by Jeremy Horelick
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While the current administration wrangles over Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security reform, there are politicians, hospital administrators, and concerned parents grappling with a problem of their own: insuring university students. If it seems the medical needs of students take a back seat to those of their elder statesmen, it's not without good reason. There are several factors at work that subordinate the plight of college students to that of seniors.

One such factor is political. Senior citizens make up a bigger, stronger, and better organized voter block than do collegians. Thus it makes sense that legislators overlook the needs of the 17- to 22-year-old set and focus on those constituents with greater political clout. Though it's tough to measure such things precisely, it's commonly said that the AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) is the single strongest lobby in all of Washington.

A second factor is biological. As a general rule, teenagers and early-20-somethings have far fewer medical concerns than senior citizens do. It therefore seems that the matter of insuring college students is less pressing. Beyond common colds and injuries, there are few reasons most healthy college students have for visiting their campus medical services, or so conventional wisdom says.

When Problems Do Arise

At issue isn't whether or not collegians need health care; all Americans (and human beings, for that matter) need access to at least minimal protection. While healthy and robust students may in fact be better equipped to fight off illnesses and recover from bugs, they are also susceptible to an array of hazards from which most seniors are exempt. These problems, if left untreated, often grow into bigger problems and, consequently, wind up costing more money and resources to treat.

Stress and depression are just two of the ailments that college students routinely fight, especially during their first year away from home. Many students coast through easy high-school curricula only to come face to face with college-level work for which they are largely unprepared. Add to that the newness of planning regular homework and study schedules amid all sorts of competing distractions, and it's no wonder so many freshmen see their GPAs belly flop in their first semesters. This wake-up call can ratchet up their stress level significantly and, in some cases, even spur on depression.

Depression, however, is hardly tied to rigorous work schedules exclusively. For many incoming freshmen, college means having to find a brand new friend group and reinvent oneself after years of relative stability. That challenge, when coupled with the "small fish, big pond" phenomenon, can demoralize even the most confident and popular students who have never had to seek out counseling in the past. Psychological services, as it turns out, account for a sizable share of student visits to the campus health center.

Footing the Bill

Needless to say, counseling doesn't come for free. In the end, someone must pick up the tab, even for peer-counseling and hotline services, which generally administer care for free. Should a student require repeated visits or more extensive care, the costs can quickly mount. Moreover, there are other hazards, many alcohol-related (such as drunk driving), that surface on college campuses with a disproportionately high frequency. These too cost money when they lead to accidents, injuries, and other sorts of damages.

Currently, the question of who ought to pay for student health care is just as messy as that of Social Security and Medicare. Some people propose what are known as hard-waiver programs that require students to have at least basic medical coverage before enrolling in classes. Others feel that this is an unreasonable burden for students to carry, especially when ordinary student debt and the stresses of a brand new lifestyle are factored in. The fact remains, however, that care must be subsidized, either by the universities themselves, the students, insurance companies, or some combination of the three, which is most often the best, most affordable solution.

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