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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Students call for health insurance

Published: November 20, 2009
Section: News

Brandeis students are currently working to reform Massachusetts state health insurance laws to include student plans in a clause that guarantees minimum standards of coverage.

The Student Health Organizing Coalition (SHOC) is working to raise awareness about what they believe is a glaring omission on the part of the state’s famous 2006 health care reform, which mandates that all citizens of the Commonwealth carry health insurance. Since 1988, state law has said that all students are required to hold a Qualifying Student Health Insurance Plan (Q-SHIP) that must provide certain criteria in the plan’s contract.

“Students at Brandeis and other schools are facing tough decisions on health insurance or paying for their education,” Shanna Rifkin ’11, founder of the Brandeis chapter SHOC, said. “Students, because of the prior existence of Q-SHIP, were left out of the 2006 reform,” Rifkin said.

Due this exemption, “state plans like Commonwealth Care and MassHealth are offering better coverage than the Q-SHIP,” Rifkin said.

SHOC is working with lawmakers to try and remove the exemption, and will appear before the Joint Committee for Health Care Financing amid other groups at a hearing on Dec. 3.

“We’re working on a bill Senate Bill 609, with Senator Richard Moore (D-Worcester and Norfolk) which eliminates the qualifying student health care plan, but we want to put something in its place,” Rifkin said.

If the bill, written by Moore, the committee’s chairman, were to pass, student plans would then presumably revert to the minimum coverage all citizens are entitled and required to hold.

The plan Rifkin supports seeks to preempt this and increase the minimum coverage that students would have.

“It would guarantee no caps on outpatient care, a prescription drug plan and other decent benefits,” she said, “and students would pay lower premiums than they do now.”

Rifkin said she is a supporter of the state’s health care plans for low-income and other citizens and that the “minimum creditable coverage” is a good thing and needs only to be expanded to include student plans.

“Minimum creditable coverage means that every state plan must have a basic coverage level, which is good; but student plans do not, [and] they are specifically exempted,” she said.

Another circumstance of all student plans being exempted is the concentration of institutional risk. Currently, most colleges in Massachusetts have their own health insurance plans, which drives up costs because each insurer bears the risk of paying for truly sick and expensive students, Rifkin explained.

Insurance companies can calculate risk to profit and costs can be lessened with a greater number of healthy students. Since all students would be paying premiums, insurance costs can be less for those it would normally be very expensive to care for.

“Students should be pooled into one Massachusetts college plan, and it would be preventive care,” Rifkin said.

This is how SHOC plans to address the payment issues for the lower premiums while guaranteeing the more comprehensive benefits of their proposal.

Rifkin said that the Massachusetts Health Connector, an existing independent state agency that has monitored and helped individuals select health care plans since the original mandate for required health insurance, would administer the plan.

“Hopefully SHOC can make people see that the health insurance plans are taking advantage of students,” Rifkin said. “It’s criminal—40 percent of premium dollars are going toward actual care, because almost no care is given by minimum requirements.”

At the hearing next month, SHOC plans on presenting its findings collected from a consensus of students.

“We need to collect testimonies for the committee—they can be anyone who is upset about the issue and wants to get involved,” Rifkin said. “Students really do have a voice; we want to make sure Massachusetts listens to its students and gives us coverage we need and deserve.”