Cheap health insurance for students could be eliminated at Fulton Montgomery Community College if a new federal health regulation is approved by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
FMCC President Dustin Swanger said a few years ago his college decided to create a mandatory health insurance policy that for only $100 per year gives basic health insurance coverage to every student taking at least six credit hours per semester. The coverage includes emergency room visits, prescription drugs and coverage for accidents but not major medical issues like cancer. The policy costs foreign students more, $500 to $600.
“The reason we wanted to do this was because I was seeing students who were sick and I’d ask, ‘Why don’t you see a doctor?’ and they’d tell me they didn’t have any insurance. In fact, I met with the student government leaders and told them I was thinking about putting in this insurance program. They said the college should do it, and two of the three student leaders in the room told me they didn’t have any insurance,” he said.
Swanger said a provision of the landmark federal health insurance reform bill passed last year has prompted the Department of Health and Human Services to propose a new regulation that would require all college student health insurance plans to expand coverage to a level basically equivalent to the health insurance provided by employers.
Expanding coverage to comply with the proposed regulation would increase the cost of FMCC’s student plan to $2,500 to $3,500 per year, potentially more than the $3,194 it costs for a New York state resident to attend the college.
“If they go through with this plan, I just wouldn’t be able to provide student insurance anymore,” Swanger said. “I understand what they are trying to do, but my philosophy has been that some coverage, and the type of coverage students are most likely to use, is better than no coverage at all.”
One of the popular provisions of the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act has been the extension of a parent’s health insurance benefits to their children up to the age of 26, which would probably cover most of FMCC’s students but not all of them. Swanger said his community college has a lot of adult learners and some students who come from families that don’t have health insurance. He said that last year, FMCC’s student health insurance had 266 claims.
“The plan is being used, even more than I would have thought it would be,” he said.
John Mancini, a health insurance agent with Hays & Wormuth in Amsterdam, said health insurance carriers that offer student health insurance plans like FMCC’s are protesting the proposed regulation.
“This regulation would require any college that offers student health insurance to increase or set the benefit limit to $100,000 for the 2012 year beginning in September, but then in 2013 the $100,000 limit increases to $2 million and then there’s no lifetime maximum after that. Most of these student programs have a maximum benefit of $25,000 to $50,000 and a time cap,” he said.
Swanger said the Department of Health and Human Services is accepting comments from the public period for the proposed regulation until mid-April. He isn’t sure when the regulation would go into effect if the federal agency decides to go through with it. He said he’s written a letter protesting the proposal.
“If they go through with this regulation, I will go forward and see if we can get an exemption from this,” he said.