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Mandatory health insurance could be implemented into UW System by next year

April 16, 2009

UW-River Falls Student Health Services is discussing the possibility of implementing a mandatory health insurance plan into the UW System as early as next year and adding the cost to student’s tuition, Director of Health Services Alice Reilly-Myklebust said.

A survey conducted by Health Services in 2007-08 revealed that 87 percent of students had health insurance, 7 percent had no health insurance and 6 percent were unsure if they had health insurance, leaving a significant portion of the student body without or unsure if they had health insurance.

Having access to health care is important because students perform better in school, Reilly-Myklebust said.

“It has been proven that students who have access to health care have higher GPAs,” Reilly-Myklebust said. “When students are healthy they miss less class and can focus on their studies.”

Students are currently offered the option of purchasing the University of Wisconsin System Student Health Insurance Plan, which is designed especially for students in need of health insurance. Reilly-Myklebust said that only about 1 to 2 percent of student body chose to participate in this health insurance plan each year.

The low enrollment in the plan is due to the nature of voluntary insurance plans, Reilly-Myklebust said.

“Voluntary insurance plans are usually expensive and offer poor coverage,” Reilly-Myklebust said.

The current annual cost of the health insurance offered by the University for individual students is $1,142 for basic coverage. A student can also pay for additional coverage options like major medical, which would cost a student another $233 in addition to the basic coverage cost. 

If a student is participating in intercollegiate sports they must purchase additional coverage for injuries sustained while participating in that sport. The cost for all sports coverage except football is $243 and coverage for all sports including football would cost $485. So, should a male student want major medical coverage and participates in football, he would pay $1,860 annually for the student health insurance currently offered to students.

Health insurance becomes affordable when lots of people participate in it because the cost is spread over a large number. This also allows the quality of coverage to be much better, Reilly-Myklebust said.

It is stressful not having the security of health insurance should something unexpected happen, freshman Shilo Eisberner said.

“It simply freaks me out and holds me back from the things I want to do,” Eisberner said. “I have all my own snowboarding equipment and I can’t even use it because I’m too scared I might get hurt out there.”

Junior Nicola Lencz, who did not have health insurance last year, said that she always worried about her health but feels much more secure now that she is covered by a health insurance plan.

“I was always worried about getting sick or something happening and how much it would cost to get better,” Lencz said. “Now I really don’t have to worry as much and can focus on other things.”

UWRF provides students with access to basic clinical health needs through Student Health Services should they fall ill. Through contractual agreements with the River Falls Medical Clinic and Pierce County Reproductive Health Services students can receive certain services free of charge or at a discounted price.

Services provided free of charge to students by both establishments include doctor visits, basic psychiatrist visits, emergency contraception, urinalysis, throat cultures, pap smears and allergy injections. Visits to the emergency room after clinic hours and prescriptions are not covered by Student Health Services. All prescription costs and ER charges are the responsibility of the student.

Students are also provided with transportation free of charge by the River Falls Taxi to and from the River Falls Medical Clinic and Pierce County Reproductive Health Services. A valid student ID must be presented each time.

The University of Minnesota has taken steps to ensure the health of its students by requiring that all degree-seeking students provide proof of a health insurance plan. If they cannot provide proof they are automatically enrolled in the university-sponsored Student Health Benefit Plan and a fee is added right into their tuition, according to the U of M Web site.

The possibility of health insurance being required by the UW-System is still in the very beginning stages of consideration and the cost of the plan is unknown at this time.

“It will most likely take a couple of years to create a coverage plan and get it approved,” Reilly-Myklebust said. “It probably won’t happen this coming year.”