Nearly a quarter of the nation’s 14.5 million college students are without health insurance. Many more are underinsured.
The problem is a major national issue that U.S. Rep. Vic Snyder wants to shed light on, so he sponsored a student health insurance conference at the University of Central Arkansas on Jan. 14.
Snyder said the importance of health care coverage came to his attention last year after he underwent heart surgery to repair a mitral valve.
?After the surgery, I received a letter from the hospital that stated at the top, ?This is not a bill?,? he said. ?The letter told me what my insurance was being billed and said if my insurance provider denied the claim, I would be responsible for the $63,000 bill.?
Nineteen to 29-year-olds account for about 12 million of the 41 million Americans who lack health insurance. This is nearly 30 percent of all uninsured individuals.
For this reason, Snyder introduced a bill (HR 3192) to the House last fall to provide optional health insurance coverage for low-income young adults through Medicaid or the State Children?s Health Insurance Program until they reach age 23.
According to the bill, these public programs currently reclassify children as adults when they turn 19, making them ineligible for coverage.
The conference included panel discussions with policy experts, college and university presidents and representatives from the health insurance industry.
Snyder said the purpose of the conference was to share ideas and opinions.
?I don?t have an agenda, and I don?t have the answers,? he said. ?All I know is we have a problem, and our young people are suffering.?
UCA President Lu Hardin said college students have fallen through the cracks because most of the health care focus is on senior citizens.
Hardin said it is time to focus on enhancing students? awareness of the importance of health insurance.
?Most students have a total lack of understanding of finances,? he said. ?They have two or three credit cards with 21 percent interest, 60 months of car payments and no health insurance. We have got to increase awareness among our college students.?
Hardin also offered a solution to ensure low-income college students have health insurance. He suggested that federal programs, such as the Pell grant, take a portion of its annual increases and use it to purchase health insurance for recipients.
?This is not something that can be left up to the students,? he said. ?We must mandate it.?
A graduate student noted that Pell grants only apply to undergraduate students, and Hardin responded by offering a number of other federal programs that could be used in similar ways.