Initiative seeks to inform students about new health insurance options

Kimberly Railey

A new initiative is underway to help educate graduating college and university seniors about their new health insurance options under the Affordable Care Act.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius sent letters last month to college and university presidents as well as student body presidents to increase awareness that young adults can now remain on their parents’ health insurance plan until age 26, according to the Department of Education’s news release.

“These changes are really going to make a significant difference for students and their families as we approach graduation season,” said Dr. James Galloway, the Department of Health and Human Services’ regional health administrator for Region V, which includes Illinois. “The Affordable Care Act ensures young adults always have quality affordable health care regardless of how their lives change.”

The act, signed into law in March 2010, increases access to health care coverage for Americans and introduces new protections for those with health insurance. While at school, Northwestern requires students to have health insurance under a student’s own plan or the plan offered by the University. Under the University’s plan, coverage is provided for outpatient service due to illness, inpatient hospital care, mental health and emergency room visits.

Galloway said under the Affordable Care Act, an estimated 1.2 million young adults can gain insurance coverage, including 51,000 young adults in Illinois alone.

Prior to the law, young adults were one of the most undercovered populations in America, often losing health care coverage after graduating from college, he said. They often aged off their parents’ health insurance when they turned 19 or graduated from college, putting pressure on graduating seniors to find an individual insurance plan.

Galloway said he’s not sure if young adults, especially those graduating this year, are aware of their new insurance options, making the initiative timely.

The mailed letters recommended ways university officials and student leaders can spread this information to young adults. Suggestions include distributing flyers outlining the new benefits and posting a badge on university and student group websites that links to information on how students can remain on a parent’s health insurance plan.

Additionally, the Department of Education and Department of Health and Human Services will help colleges or students groups host information sessions to explain insurance options. A Facebook page also provides information for parents and young adults about coverage for individuals younger than 26 years old.

Both Dean of Students Burgwell Howard and Associated Student Government President Austin Young said to their knowledge, they have not received the letter. Still, Howard maintained the University would want to share this information with students.

“Health insurance is truly something that impacts all our students,” Howard said. “It’s definitely something that we would want to make sure students are aware of.”

McCormick senior Sasha Letuchy said she thinks NU could perhaps email students to share their new benefits, but most are aware of them already.

“I think the changes are really beneficial, especially because the economy is so bad,” Letuchy said. “It just makes people feel calmer about not being able to find jobs after graduating.”

Galloway said he hopes all young adults become aware of their new benefits. In addition to being able to stay on their parents’ plan until age 26, under the new legislation young adults also cannot be barred from treatment due to pre-existing conditions and can receive premium tax credits to make coverage more affordable if their income is below $43,000.

“All of it’s been worked on hard through Congress and our president, and I’ve been enthusiastic about this,” Galloway said. “As we move along, we’ll learn, and we’ll modify some things so that’s it’s better for everybody. This is a tremendous start.”

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