Students Eschew ACA for Private Plans
Published: Tuesday, February 11, 2014
Updated: Tuesday, February 11, 2014 23:02
With the formal introduction of President Obama's Affordable Care Act on Jan.1, Americans have another option for health insurance. But while the ACA launch has focused on enrolling young, healthy individuals in healthcare marketplaces, few Georgetown students, most of whom are covered under the university plan or their parents’ health insurance, have made the shift.
For many students at Georgetown, knowledge of and enrollment in marketplaces under the ACA remains limited, largely because other options available to Georgetown students are highly comprehensive and competitive.
“I think students are generally not aware of Obamacare and that the majority have just heard about it in a political sense versus what it actually entails,” said Hania El Banhawi (NHS ’16), an intern for a nonprofit that promotes healthcare enrollment.
Within the D.C. health care exchange market, Georgetown’s Premier Plan, which is underwritten by United Healthcare Insurance Company, rings in at $193.75 per month, just under the least expensive ACA plan for customers under 27 years old, which costs $195.04 monthly.
“I don’t know if it’s a thing that [Georgetown students] know about or talk about a lot,” Emily Lett (COL ’17) said.
Georgetown requires students in a degree program who are registered for more than nine credits — or eight for thesis research, law or graduate students — to be covered by adequate health insurance, defined as coverage of $500,000 or more per injury or sickness that is valid in the Washington metro area.
According to Director of Family Medicine and Assistant Vice President of Student Health Services Jim Welsh, the current majority of undergraduate and graduate students remain covered under their parents’ plans, which are valid until they reach the age of 26.
“About 25 percent of undergraduates end up purchasing the university plan, and 75 percent end up staying on their parents’ plan, which drops to about 55 to 60 percent for graduate students,” Welsh said.
Georgetown’s Premier Plan provides full-year student coverage for $2,325 annually, including clinic visits, in- and out-patient coverage as well as mental health coverage. Starting in the 2013-2014 insurance year, United Healthcare began to cover contraception under the ACA’s Contraception Mandate.This includes preventive care and screenings for women as well as Food and Drug Administration approved contraceptive methods.
“The plan that we offer is a very comprehensive plan and would be graded at a platinum level,” Welsh said. “The Affordable Care Act has added some changes that have levelled that playing field in terms of mental health care, which we are historically known for covering well.”
While Welsh acknowledged that the ACA has had an effect on enrollment in the university plan, he said it has not been detrimental to enrollment in the plan.
“As the Affordable Care Act is getting rolled out every year, we are carefully seeing the impact it is having [on student insurance], but we are now dealing with two years of [the ACA] and we are still seeing significant enrollment in our plan,” Welsh said.
Sebastian Nicholls (SFS ’16) was not surprised that the university, with a large population of primarily young, healthy individuals, was able to offer such a cheap option.
“Since around half of the nation’s universities offer student health plans, these are better options for college students,” Nicholls said. “By having a younger pool of customers, you reduce the costs of higher-risk individuals, and the reduced cost allows college plans to offer better benefits for the same price.”
Welsh expressed concerns about students who come to Georgetown with out-of-state, regionally based plans, which oftentimes do not translate to full coverage in the D.C. area.
“I’m using the Georgetown insurance, mainly because I’m an international student,” Banhawi said of her own experience with regional insurance discrepancies.
Amid malfunctions with its online platform, Healthcare.gov, the introduction of the ACA has not proven effective for all participants. David Turer (MSB ’16), who signed up with his parents for health coverage under the ACA, was temporarily dropped from the system at the beginning of the year because of a technical glitch.
“Their paperwork got messed up and they accidently dropped a lot of people, so they decided that they’ll put us back on their plan when the paperwork goes through sometime in February, but for now I am uninsured,” Turer said.
Nonetheless, Lett, who opted out of the university plan because it is cheaper to stay covered by her parents’ plan, speculated that she would enroll in the ACA if she were not already covered by her parents’ insurance.
“I personally would consider it now. There was a point that I didn’t have health care and that was really hard, so I do think it should be available for all people,” Lett said. “I don’t think it’s fair that being sick should cost you that much money if you don’t have [insurance].”
With the March 31 deadline to enroll looming, Banhawi is working with her insurance agency to promote these health care options to the uninsured public.
“Many people don’t know the deadline exists, and many have no idea how to get health care and what options are available to them. A large number of people don’t think they can really get ‘affordable’ care because they don’t know that they are eligible for certain insurance deals based on their living situation, so they just decide not to get insurance,” Banhawi said.
However, Welsh still regards the university plan as competetive with the Affordable Care Act.
“I think that students should look at all options, but my own research this year of the plans available to residents in D.C. shows that our plan still remains highly competitive,” Welsh said.