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Some students left in health care limbo

A volunteer shows off his t-shirt. For students, getting information about health insurance isn't always as easy as advertised. (photo/csmonitor.com)

When the Affordable Health Care Act was passed in 2010, it seemed like no one would ever be without health care again. It seemed all of the citizens in health care limbo would be covered affordably and fairly. While the law is slowly working toward this goal, it seems that some are still insecure about their coverage. Students are sometimes in that group.

Because undergraduates are somewhat independent, yet rarely employed full time, they sometimes fall into an insurance loophole. As a person who has gone most of my life without any form of health insurance, I can attest that it can be confusing. When I applied to ONU, I was informed that if we did not already have health coverage, we would have to pay for student health insurance.

Though I was dismayed that the insurance was mandatory and expensive, I was excited to learn about my benefits. I was excited to go to the dentist, to the eye doctor, to get a regular check-up, all at no cost. Those who have regular health insurance know that this is not the case. Often, such visits are co-paid, but are rarely free.

At the time I entered college, I had not gone to the dentist in five years. Despite having hopes of doing so with my required medical coverage, I still have not gone to the dentist. The reason for my medical procrastination lies partly in being too busy, partly in avoiding someone scraping my teeth, but also because I simply do not understand what my coverage is. For the first two years of college, I paid approximately $1,000 for the student health care plan each semester. I never received a medical card, nor did I receive any information regarding my coverage. I never learned the name of the plan and did not know anything about the extent of my benefits.

I sought medical help once during this period, and it was at the student health center near the Lakeview apartments. I was shocked when the nurse asked to see my insurance card— despite paying for the student health plan, I didn’t have one. I was treated anyway, but only because the student health clinic is free to all students. If I had gone anywhere else for treatment, I would have had no idea how to communicate anything about my insurance coverage.

At the beginning of this school year, I was pleasantly surprised by an email containing information about my student health insurance provider. There was even a chart concerning my coverage. Despite being a somewhat educated member of society, I couldn’t make heads or tails of what it meant. To this day, I have no idea what would happen if I attempted to apply my student insurance to a real doctor’s visit. What’s an (un)insured student to do?

I’m glad that my situation will probably not be replicated by too many other ONU students. The longer the health care law is in effect, the more families will opt to avoid the fine related with having no insurance. So, most students will continue to be carried on their parents’ insurance throughout their college career. Even then, those students will rely heavily on the free student health center to get by. Yet, it seems the center is unequipped to address most health issues.

While many students are grateful for the clinic’s help in making appointments with local specialists to address serious illness, others complain that the clinic takes a band-aid approach to everything else. It’s yet another uncertainty for the health of students. In time, I hope the university-provided insurance coverage becomes more accessible to students and the student health clinic becomes more comprehensive. Until then, students will be at risk of living in health care limbo.

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