Pitt students challenge GOP on health care

By Marissa Meredyth

Some Pitt students said they worry they won’t have adequate health care coverage if Republican… Some Pitt students said they worry they won’t have adequate health care coverage if Republican attempts to repeal the Affordable Health Care Act succeed.

Ashley Wright is one such student. The 20-year-old senior expects to graduate this December — right around the time campaigning for the next presidential race will begin, giving hopeful Republicans a real opportunity to repeal the health care act that many students have already benefited from. The act gave young adults the ability to stay on their parents’ health insurance until they turn 26.

“My parents keep reminding me to find a job that provides good health insurance,” Wright said. “But if it becomes necessary, I can stay on theirs now.”

Wright said she fears she would lose this option if Republicans suceed, especially when faced with finding a full-time job in a grim market upon graduation.

Despite concerns like Wright’s, Republicans have already taken the first steps toward repealing the act. But with a Democratic majority in the Senate and a Democratic president, that job will be exceedingly difficult without further Republican victories at the polls in 2012.

Still, last week the Republican majority in the House passed a health care repeal bill by a vote of 245 to 189. This first step for the bill has been considered symbolic as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the senior Senator from Nevada, has not added the bill to the Senate’s agenda.

Perhaps the most hotly contended aspect of the health care law, which passed last March, is a provision making health insurance mandatory for those who can afford it starting Jan. 1, 2014.

But two new provisions that took effect on Sept. 23 of last year directly affect many Pitt students. Insurance companies must allow young adults the opportunity to stay on their parents’ insurance until age 26, and insurance companies can no longer drop coverage because of clerical errors or because the insured got sick.

On campus, Wright said she felt Republicans were not looking at how the act has already and will continue to benefit the public — a sentiment White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs also pushed during a conference call with student journalists last Tuesday.

“I think it’s important the kind of message this sends to the American people,” Gibbs said. “We are going to put [health insurance companies] back in charge of making decisions to drop, deny, limit and cap coverage?”

If the Republicans’ message was intended to be symbolic, Gibbs felt it was “of tremendous importance.”

“I do think Republicans will pay a political price because they are not listening to the American people,” Gibbs said.

“The American people are not for repealing,” he said, adding that one in three young adults is currently uninsured and 1.3 million get coverage through their parents.

Local Republican leaders, including Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, could not be reached for comment this week. But Pitt College Republicans president Matt Vermeire said it is a misunderstanding to say Republicans are against improving and reforming health care.

“We are philosophically opposed to the possibly unconstitutional individual mandate,” Vermeire said in an e-mail.

Another provision to take effect in 2014 will mandate that health insurance companies will no longer be able to deny or hike rates because of a pre-existing condition.

This provision is of concern to students who, upon graduating and finding employment, might have to switch providers.

“129 million people under the age of 65 have some type of pre-existing condition,” Gibbs said.

These conditions often include heart disease, cancer, asthma and other chronic conditions.

Vermeire also noted though that “According to H.R. 5424, regardless of repeal or modifications, Republicans wish to keep age extension and pre-existing conditions provisions.”  H.R. 5424 is the name of the Republican bill that would repeal the Affordable Health Care Act.

In a poll conducted by Rock the Vote last summer, a majority of students responded favorably to the idea of health care reform.

Of 300 Pennsylvanians aged 18 to 29, 26 percent said health care was an issue they would most like politicians to do something about. The No. 1 issues were jobs and the economy.

Ashley Hall, a 24-year-old graduate student in the School of Library and Information Sciences, said she felt lucky to not have any pre-existing conditions.

Hall, a Montana native, said that a small insurance provider in Montana dropped her coverage last year, forcing her to buy into Pitt’s insurance plan, which provides coverage for students and faculty.

“I might have been OK to go a couple months without insurance,” she said. “But if I had, I probably would have broken my leg or something.”

Hall did not think the Affordable Health Care Act would be overturned.

“The legislative process can go on for decades,” Hall said. “We should give it a shot, and if we need to fix it later we can.”