By Bryan A. Liang
While the Obama administration’s proposed regulations on college health plans have been hailed by some as “a win for students," the game is not over yet.
The Department of Health and Human Services, which issued the proposed rules last month, should be applauded for rejecting efforts by colleges and universities to characterize their plans as “limited duration” rather than as individual insurance plans. By doing so, the agency let colleges know in no uncertain terms that their school-sponsored health insurance plans (SHIPS) cannot avoid federal regulation and healthcare reform mandates, as their lobbyists had been pushing. However, while the proposed regulations are a good start, the Department must go further to ensure appropriate student protections and address student and family needs.
The fact is that the vast majority of college students do not sign up for SHIPs, as they are already covered through another plan. In almost all cases, these plans -- whether through a parent’s employer, on the individual market, or from a public entity -- provide better coverage than what is offered through the college. It would stand to reason then that, under health reform, students should be able to use their own private or public plan for their healthcare needs. As President Obama has stated repeatedly, “If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan.”
However, these proposed regulations would leave President Obama’s promise unfulfilled. Why? Because these rules would continue to allow colleges, with very few exceptions, to refuse to accept non-SHIP health insurance as valid payment for services rendered at their campus health centers. Instead, students and/or their parents could still be forced to purchase a redundant health care plan at a cost that is not trivial. Indeed, despite the fact that college tuition is rising between 20-120% of the consumer price index, these plans require more cost-sharing than traditional private and public insurance, and they tend to be poor in overall service coverage.