Push made to get UF students to study health insurance options

Rachel McGovern, the national council chair for the College of Democrats of America, speaks during a media conference to educate young adults about health care, focusing on what is available for college-aged people, Thursday at the Student Health Care Center at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

Erica Brough/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Thursday, October 3, 2013 at 5:23 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, October 3, 2013 at 5:23 p.m.

Jose Cardona fractured his leg playing basketball at the Southwest Recreation Center last year. He went to the emergency room at UF Health Shands Hospital, was X-rayed, spent the night and went home the next day with a pair of crutches.

“Weeks later I got a bill for $700. It was a big surprise!” said Cardona, 22, a senior majoring in English at the University of Florida who works to support himself and go to school. He still hasn’t paid the bill because he has other expenses that come first, such as rent and utilities.

“I’m waiting for my tax return to pay my medical bills,” he said.

Cardona is among the estimated 15-18 percent of University of Florida students who have no health insurance. He said he’s looking forward to signing up for it under the health insurance exchange set up under the Affordable Care Act. Open enrollment began Tuesday.

An estimated 3 million uninsured university and college students in the U.S. are eligible for health coverage under the ACA, said Rachel McGovern, a senior in political science at UF and vice president of the UF College Democrats.

McGovern said she was confident about her future after graduation “knowing that we can get health insurance.”

Both attended a news conference Thursday in front of the Student Health Center at UF to roll out a campaign by the Florida Public Interest Research Group (FPIRG) to educate young adults about their health insurance options. The consumer advocacy group has also put out a new guide: “So You Need Health Insurance. Now What? Florida Health Insurance 101.”

“The point of this is that not everybody knows they can be insured,” FPIRG associate Dalyn Houser said. “For example, it would be helpful to know that they could be insured on their parents’ plan.”

Under the ACA, young adults can stay on their parents’ health plan until they are 26. Young adults can shop for their own coverage to begin on Jan. 1, by checking with their state insurance marketplace or exchange. They also can see if they are eligible to receive subsidies or tax cuts if their income level is less than $43,000 a year and can qualify for Medicaid coverage if they earn less than about $15,000 a year — or 138 percent of the federal poverty level.

FPIRG has 15 interns and volunteers at UF who are promoting the health care campaign on campus and passing around a petition to get other students to commit to educating their classmates about the new health plan, Houser said. Three hundred students have signed the petition so far, she said.

FPIRG’s campaign was launched the same week the White House launched its own campaign to get millions of uninsured Americans to sign up for the program, including the 19 million young adults without insurance.

Republicans have been running ads to persuade people not to sign up, or “opt out” of Obamacare, as the health care program has been called.

Insurance is not currently a condition of enrollment at UF, said Catherine Seemann, a communication coordinator at the UF Student Health Care Center. However, any student enrolled at UF pays a health service fee that gives them access to basic evaluations and consultations, she said. Starting in fall 2014, all incoming students will have to provide proof of health insurance as a condition for enrollment, after UF’s board of trustees voted unanimously for the requirement in March.

The university also offers free screenings for sexually transmitted diseases and infections in a joint arrangement with the Alachua County Health Department, Seemann said.

Students are responsible for any other costs such as lab work, procedures, X-rays, prescriptions and medical equipment, she said.

“We do our very best to work with students,” Seemann said.

The university has negotiated a major medical plan, provided by United Healthcare Student Resources, for students who don’t have access to health insurance, said Kat Lindsey, the assistant director of Health Administration at UF.

For the uninsured, the Student Health Care Center follows the same sliding fee guidelines as UF Health clinics, she said.

Lindsey also encouraged students to check out the Health Marketplace to see what’s available.

“Students are absolutely allowed to sign up for health insurance via the marketplace,” Lindsey said. “We encourage students to explore options and determine the best benefit structure for their current situation.”

Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.

▲ Return to Top