Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Connect students to health care

health insurance

MASSACHUSETTS COLLEGE students are not allowed to get health coverage through the state Connector Authority’s program of subsidized Commonwealth Care. So private, for-profit health insurance companies are making a killing on students who are not covered by their parents, spouses, or employers. The state, which is exploring ways to ease the burden, should either reverse that policy or find some other way to keep high insurance premiums from adding to the skyrocketing tuition and fees that students have to pay.

According to a report by the state’s Division of Health Care Finance and Policy, 30 cents of every premium dollar for student insurance goes toward profits and administrative costs. That compares with 12 cents for policies sold to the general public. With some of the student policies, less than 60 cents of every premium dollar goes to actual health benefits.

While most Massachusetts residents have been required to buy health insurance just since 2006, the mandate that students carry coverage has been in place for two decades. Most students - 73 percent - comply with coverage from their families or employers, but each year 97,000 students have to buy policies through their schools.

While the premiums for these policies are often modest, averaging just $1,216 a year, the plans are not required to provide the “minimum credible coverage’’ standard that plans for the general population must meet under the 2006 law. Many student policies have limits on payments for hospitalization, prescription drugs, and doctors’ visits. In 2008, 951 insured students had outpatient costs that exceeded their caps.

The simplest way to ensure that students get affordable but adequate coverage would be to have the Connector Authority oversee and vet special insurance plans for students, as it does for others. An alternative would be for the state to require college officials to ensure that policies sold on their campuses have low administrative costs and profits and meet basic standards of coverage. A student’s purchase of health insurance should not be a lesson in industry profiteering.