Although approximately 90 percent of Cal Poly students have health insurance coverage, the remaining 10 percent have until March 31, 2014 to find coverage, or face fines.
“Why do I need health insurance?”
According to Christina Lefevre Latner, one of Cal Poly’s Health Insurance Education Project’s (HIEP) campus coordinators, this is a common question students ask.
If one doesn’t have health insurance by March 31, 2014, then he or she will be fined $95 or one percent of their annual income, whichever is highest. By 2016, the penalty will increase to $695 or 2.5 percent of their annual income.
However, that may not be a problem for the majority of Cal Poly students.
Most young adults are insured under their parents’ health plans until they are 26. Cal Poly also has a high rate of insured students. According to campus coordinator Catherine Thomas, the current projected number of insured Cal Poly students is approximately 90 percent.
But, whenever Thomas and Latner do a class presentation about HIEP and Covered California — California’s marketplace for health insurance under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act — they find one or two students say they need insurance, Latner said.
“We understand we are fighting against numbers,” Thomas said. “Hopefully, it gets everyone insured, or at least lets them know all of the resources that are available to them.”
Wendy Lee, HIEP’s regional coordinator for Northern California, said 30 percent of Cal State University (CSU) students are uninsured. About 70 percent of CSU students are eligible for subsidies.
“So many students might think they are young, they’re invincible, that there’s no reason for this, that they have the Health Center, they don’t need insurance,” Latner said. “But, you know, accidents happen and you need to be prepared for that, and you don’t want to be caught without insurance.”
Not too long ago, Latner was headed to Phillips Hall when she saw someone struck by a bicyclist.
If that student didn’t have insurance and went to the hospital for a broken leg, it could cost as much as $15,000, Latner said. Just going into an emergency room can cost $3,000, she said.
Interim Director of the Health and Counseling Services Dr. David Harris said a major cause of personal bankruptcy in America is from medical bills.
According to Dr. Harris, health insurance is not properly named. The word insurance implies someone is paying against the risk that something might happen, he said.
“We are all going to need health care,” he said. “We’re just insuring the inevitable.”
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), otherwise known as “Obamacare,” requires employers to tell their employees about their health care options. The CSU system is making sure students and faculty know about these options through HIEP.
CSU Los Angeles received a $1.25 million grant to launch HIEP. The program’s three primary targets are students, faculty and parents. CSU Los Angeles employs two campus coordinators at 15 of the 23 CSU campuses using the grant money.
“We are basically the boots on the ground,” Latner said.
According to Latner, some of the most common questions students ask involve financial aid, residency requirements and their parents’ insurance.
The short answer: Grants are considered income and must be accounted for when applying. Loans are not.
Legal California residents are eligible for insurance under Covered California.
“It’s not the same as out-of-state requirements for school,” Latner said. “It’s not as rigorous as that, but you do have to establish state residency.”
If students come from another state, they can get insurance through that health benefit exchange program.
Whether students should leave their parents’ insurance should be decided on a case-by-case basis, Latner said.
What’s included in the coverage depends on someone’s income eligibility. If a person makes less than $15,856 annually, then he or she might be eligible for Medi-Cal, which is free public insurance (if their household size includes one person). A one-person household making fewer than $28,725 annually might qualify for subsidies for both their premium and cost-sharing subsidies. A one-person household making fewer than $45,960 annually might qualify for premium subsidies, which is usually money that goes toward health care premiums costs, Latner said. One-person households making more than $45,961 annually are not eligible for subsidies.
Under the Affordable Care Act, all insurance plans must cover these 10 Essential Health Benefits:
Ambulatory patient services
Maternity and newborn care
Mental health and substance use disorder services, including behavioral health treatment
Rehabilitative and habilitative services and devices
Preventive and wellness services and chronic disease management
What students should know
Thomas said students should look beyond the scope of the political debate surrounding health care and recognize the importance of the issue. Thomas hopes the law will “break the stigma that health care is a privilege and not a right,” she said. Thomas said that in her mind, health care is a right.
“The most important is that they need to disconnect the politics with the policy,” she said. “We are not a healthy country. A lot of that is due to access and affordability.”
She said insurance can be a lot less expensive that someone might think.
Harris said the ACA is a good law.
“I don’t see it as the complete answer for all the ills that confront our health care delivery system,” he said. “But it is an important first step.”
For more information or to set up an appointment with an enrollment counselor, email Latner and Thomas at firstname.lastname@example.org or go on the Cal Poly HIEP Facebook page.