Should College Students Pay More for Health Insurance?

When I went off to university all starry-eyed with prospects and dreams for the future, insurance was honestly the last thing on my mind. Well, perhaps not the last thing.  But for many college students it’s the same: they’re only thinking of the future, how it’s full of possibilities and the unknown. They’ve flown the nest (at least until Christmas break), and they want to enjoy the experience to its fullest. It is for this precise reason that college students should think about insurance; life is full of the unknown, and in many cases, the unknown and unexpected is unpleasant.

The life of the college student

I knew far too many people and heard of many more who met with unfortunate accidents or illnesses in college. College kids do stupid things: they jump off roofs into swimming pools and do other dumb things in the name of Greek organizations; they drink way too much, take drugs, and far too many times they drive after doing so; they get sick from everyone else’s germs in the dorms by sharing personal items or by not exercising proper precautions in various interpersonal activities. You know what I mean by that, don’t make me explain it.

Health insurance for students

So it’s obvious that when you send off Junior to university that he needs to be insured. What are the options?

For those parents who have health insurance, they should try to keep the kids on their policies. This is much less expensive, and with the new health care reform laws, it’s possible until Junior is 26 or has access to insurance through his employer. However, it will likely drive up your premiums somewhat, given the risk element discussed above. Insurers are leery of young adults because they are deemed a high risk, and especially once they’ve left the nest and aren’t under your direct supervision, that risk will increase. Also, make sure that you check and see if they can receive regular services from your insurance company if attending a college more than 100 miles away; some insurers only give emergency coverage outside your home area.

Campus health systems

Many universities offer a campus health system. It’s pretty rudimentary, but it’s easily accessible, and it’s tailor-made for student needs. Often a part of those hefty tuition payments goes toward this kind of service-based health insurance. Campus health systems offer basic care, and if your kid gets really sick they can refer them out to local hospitals or specialists, and they usually can link up with your insurance (or your child’s, if they get it through a job or their own policy) to bill for those services directly. Campus health is very pro-active about student health on many levels, promoting vaccinations, safe sex practices and family planning resources, psychological counseling, and general first-aid for routine illness and injuries.

Individual Health Insurance

Then there’s the possibility of Junior having to get his own insurance, whether he gets a job and they offer it as a benefit or in the form of an individual policy. This is the more expensive option: as discussed before, insurers charge this age group more, for many reasons, and many of them are sound ones.

Is it fair?

Is it fair? Well, I suppose when considered from the insurance company’s perspective, yes, in many ways. Yes, college students do dumb stuff and end up getting hurt and sick. That kind of risk has to be assumed when insuring someone; that’s why about 30% of universities require students to have insurance, so that the school doesn’t assume the risk.

However, I also know that when you’re in school, money is in exceedingly short supply. I remember many dinners of Ramen noodles and microwave popcorn when I ran out of credit on my student dining plan, and putting a dollar’s worth of gas into the car and praying it’d get me to work. I know thousands of other students have been in that position, and as such, the idea of paying for insurance, especially when it’s more expensive for them than many others, is really distasteful and can be downright impossible. Some students come from families who can’t afford to insure them. The latest polls I read were that of all college students, 20% were insured because they couldn’t afford to be, or because their parents couldn’t afford to insure them. The bigger problems of society as a whole are echoed in a smaller scale on campus.

So no, I don’t think it’s fair, at least not to the student. In this case, I think the reform laws are right-on-target, because it’s issues like these that need to be addressed, and with the reform it’s much more possible.

So that’s my take.