Last Friday, we presented one of our many grievances against the U.S. Senate. By stalling on an important student loan reform bill already passed by the House of Representatives, the Senate is standing in the way of major steps to reduce the extraordinary cost of higher education in America. This alone would be enough to make us doubt that the Senate cares genuinely about the interests of America's students. But to our great dismay, the Senate seems to be making a habit out of unfriendliness to higher education. Indeed, a little-known technicality in the Senate's health care reform bill threatens the ability of colleges and universities to provide low-cost health insurance plans to students.
Low-cost health insurance plans are crucial to students who must purchase health insurance on top of the already heavy burden of tuition. In a recent memo to congressional leadership, the American Council on Higher Education noted that 3 million students nationwide currently purchase health insurance through their schools. The Herald reported in 2007 that 3,200 Brown students participate in the University's health insurance program.
Unfortunately, H.R. 3590, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act passed by the Senate in December, may undermine the way colleges and universities offer health insurance to students. In the bill, existing health insurance plans are classified as individual or group plans and regulated accordingly. The federal government and states currently treat student health insurance plans as group plans.
However, the Senate's bill allows student health insurance plans to be defined as individual rather than group plans, and in turn may subject these plans to several new and unnecessary regulations. For instance, universities offering insurance to students could be required to sell their plans in the individual market to any person, irrespective of university affiliation. If individuals less healthy than average college students are introduced into the risk pool, students' costs will rise.
Additionally, student health insurance plans may no longer be able to calculate premiums based on the practice of "group rating," which has historically allowed for affordable plans. The group rating process accounts for the fact that the pool of insured college students will, on average, tend to be healthier than other segments of the population. Either of these regulatory adjustments would increase costs for students and could force campus health services providers and administrators to rethink a system that seems to be working well already.
Fortunately, the health care reform bill passed by the House of Representatives does not contain this misclassification. Given new political circumstances, Congress will have another opportunity in the coming weeks to revisit health care reform and tweak pending legislation. We hope that legislators will fix this aspect of the Senate's bill and protect the interests of American students.
If you're among the thousands — yes, literally thousands — of Brown students who mightbe affected by this potential change, call your Senators and ask them do something about it. More generally, find out what your senators have done recently to help students and universities. With midterm elections upcoming, we have an opportunity to send a message that we don't appreciate how the Senate has treated us lately.
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