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Impact of health-care reform uncertain for students, changes on campus to be seen

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Minjae kim / The Daily

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Source: Los Angeles Times

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Source: Hall Health Primary Care Center

UW senior Leah Thurston needs to have her wisdom teeth pulled and hasn’t had medical insurance for the past 10 years. Under the new health-care legislation, the procedure may be covered by her mother’s new insurance.

Because of the new health-care bill, after Thurston graduates in the fall, her mother can still cover her on her health insurance until Thurston is 26 years old.

“I don’t really think about [not having health insurance]. I think when you stress about it, then you start to get hurt. I just pretend like it’s not an issue,” she said. “It’s just my hope that I don’t break my leg or get in some catastrophic accident or have cancer.”

According to The New York Times, the health-care bill that passed in Congress, which was then signed into law by President Obama on March 23, will insure 32 million people by 2019, but the implications for student health care is largely unknown.

Thurston said she is grateful for the new law but still skeptical about the health-care bill as a whole.

“I think as a nation we should support everybody in terms of health insurance, and we should all hold each other up, but there are also some instances where I also think everyone should do their own part,” she said. “They shouldn’t just rely on this bill to be their health insurance, and I don’t want to be one of those people that’s like, ‘oh, I’ll just wait till it comes down.’ It’s kind of my responsibility to cover myself as a person.”

But, like many students, Thurston remains unsure of her post-graduation future. She said she really enjoys school and majoring in anthropology, but the job market for her degree scares her. After college, Thurston plans to continue working as a waitress but realizes that, as of right now, the health-care bill will probably require her to have some form of health insurance by 2014 — whether she has a job that provides it or not.

This is one aspect of the health-care bill that Justin Bryant, president of the UW College Republicans, said could be negative for students.

“As college students, I think this is the worst deal for us, because all we get out of it is being, one, required to get health insurance — which we’re the healthiest group, anyways, and we’re the individuals who least need health insurance in your 20s — and now we’re required by law to get it, so that’s instantly more expensive,” he said. “And then you’re putting this huge cost on the businesses, and so when we go out to the job market, it’s going to be a lot harder to get jobs, because hiring us just became exponentially more expensive.”

Under the new health-care laws, companies with more than 50 employees will be required to provide health insurance for their workers, and Bryant said this adds costs to those companies, which could make it more difficult for them to hire new people. He said this could mean fewer job opportunities for those students graduating from college in the near future.

Some students would rather see health-care reform run entirely by the government.

“It is not perfect by any means — a single-payer system would have been ideal in order to cut insurance companies completely out of the picture,” said Teodora Popescu, vice president of the UW Young Democrats and an uninsured student. “Ultimately, I think that’s what should happen,” she said. “The sheer idea of having health care be a private and fairly unregulated system seems ridiculous to me. Of course, the best interest of the patient is overlooked for the best interest of the company; that’s the point — you’re looking to make a profit off someone’s health.”

When UW junior Silas Goewey’s parents told him they could no longer afford to keep him on their health-insurance plan, Goewey turned to student health insurance. It is especially easy for Goewey because his financial aid — a combination of loans, grants and scholarships — covers the cost of the plan every quarter. Goewey is uncertain about his future career plans and doesn’t know how the requirement to have health insurance by 2014 will affect him.

Diane Hanks, assistant director for the Business Services & Student Insurance Office, said that about 5,200 students are currently enrolled in the UW Student Health Insurance Plan. The plan covers students and their dependents while they are in college, but post-graduation, it’s up to them to find health insurance.

Hanks is uncertain about the effects of the health-care bill on student insurance.

“Now, with health-care reform and students being able to stay on their parents’ plan until age 26, that will also have an impact — we just don’t know what.”

Changes at Hall Health Primary Care Center are also anticipated.

“Our hope at Hall Health is that UW students who currently are not able to access Hall Health beyond the one free visit each quarter will have more-frequent subsidized access to Hall Health under the current bill,” said Dr. Jean Haulman, medical director of Campus Health Services, via e-mail. “… There will be so many changes coming in the next few months, it will take time to process. I know that the student health insurance is going to change for the better, and as an optimist, I am hopeful that the health-care reform changes will improve the ability of students to receive care.”

Reach reporter Lael Telles at news@dailyuw.com.

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