Health care reforms extended to students

By Gwenn Barney

Like their private counterparts, University-provided health insurance plans will be banned from… Like their private counterparts, University-provided health insurance plans will be banned from denying coverage to students with pre-existing conditions and imposing payout limits starting next year.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced yesterday a set of proposed rules that will start in 2012. The new rules will afford students the same consumer protections and benefits through University-provided health insurance that the general population receives under the Affordable Care Act, which was signed in March. The law also gives the government the power to enact the rules for students now.

Along with baring insurance companies from denying coverage to those with pre-existing health problems — such as diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer and asthma — these protections include eliminating situations where insurance agencies only pay students health benefits up to a certain amount, a practice known as placing “lifetime limits” on coverage.

During a conference call, Steven Bloom, director of government relations for the American Council on Education, expressed concerns that premiums on student health care plans could increase with the added provisions.

“There’s concern insurers might use the regulations as a pretext to raise premiums,” Bloom said.

Steve Larsen, director of the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight, the branch of the HHS responsible for the provisions’ creation, addressed Bloom’s concern.

“We are not expecting the insurance industry … will have to raise premiums,” he said.

According to the HHS’s website, approximately 1,500 to 2,000 institutions of higher education across the country offer some type of health coverage, with as many as 3 million students covered through student health care systems.

Pitt’s health coverage plan is offered through the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Pitt and UPMC officials did not immediately return calls for comment.

The proposed rules also will do away with “arbitrary recessions,” instances where insurance providers drop student coverage by citing mistakes made in the insurance application process.

“This is a major victory for college students and their families,” said Aaron Smith, executive director of Young Invincibles, a group that works to bring student voices to the health care debate.

Smith said that in a survey of nine colleges, eight had an exclusion clause for students with pre-existing medical conditions.

The Affordable Care Act, signed into law by President Barack Obama last year, will see most of its provisions enacted by 2014. The controversial act also included provisions such as an individual mandate for health insurance and allowing children to stay on their parents’ insurance until they turn 26.