It is estimated that 6 percent of the University student body currently does not have health insurance. University Health Services, however, is seeking to lower those numbers. 

Wednesday afternoon, UHS held an event to educate students about the importance of health insurance and to help interested students enroll in a state or federal health plan.

The enrollment event was a result of a partnership between UHS and the Washtenaw Health Initiative, a county-wide collaborative effort to improve health care access for low-income, uninsured and Medicaid populations in the county.

Pat Oungpasuk, coordinator of the Initiative, said around 60 students attended the event altogether. Most, she added, were graduate students.

“Undergraduate students are generally under their parents’ plan so they do not have to worry as much,” Oungsapuk said. “Graduate students have to worry about this a little bit more because they tend to be older.”

The deadline for enrolling in this year’s federal health plan through the Affordable Care Act is Jan. 31, unless the person experiences a “Qualifying Life Event.” Qualifying life events include turning 26 and therefore losing coverage from parents, losing employer insurance or losing your spouse’s insurance coverage because of divorce. If an individual experiences one of these events, they are eligible to purchase a plan in the following 60 days afterward.

Many uninsured students, as well as another group of students, may be eligible for purchasing the federal and state plans — along with the 6 percent estimated uninsured at the University, there are also “underinsured” students whose health plan does not provide adequate coverage in Michigan. Coverage may only be adequate in their home state or adequate solely for emergencies, meaning these students lack full coverage while at school.

Though the majority of students do not have a chronic illness and/or are unlikely to have sudden health complications, UHS executive director Robert Winfield, the University’s chief health officer, said it is important for students to have health insurance to prepare for a possible costly procedure or medication.  

“Insurance prevents (students) withdrawing from school because they lost or owe so much money,” Winfield said. “It’s like car insurance. You wouldn’t drive your car without your car insurance. It’s a similar thing.”

Winfield added though the University currently offers a student health plan called Domestic Student Health Insurance Plan from Aetna, federal- or state-funded plans might be more affordable for students. According to Winfield, fewer and fewer healthy students have enrolled in the University’s student health plan every year, and this has caused the price of the insurance package to escalate.

“The healthy (students) have not been buying the insurance as much because the price is too high,” Winfield said. “(Students) who are sick buy the insurance. That drives the prices up because of what’s called ‘adverse selection.’ ”

Currently, students enrolled in the University’s plan can go to UHS for office visits, lab work, X-rays and physical therapy for no charge during the term, but seeing a specialist or receiving a service that is unavailable at UHS can be costly.

The University also offers a similar insurance plan for international students, who are required to have some form of insurance.  

Carrie Rheingans, project manager for the Initiative, said a majority of University students would likely fall under the “low-income” category and in turn qualify for the state’s Healthy Michigan Plan. This plan is for Michigan residents who have an income at or below 133 percent of the federal poverty level (approximately $16,000 for a single person). The Healthy Michigan Plan has no deadlines for enrollment.

“The people at UHS really suspect that most of the students who come in will be eligible for the (Healthy Michigan Plan),” Rhenigans said.

She said if students missed Wednesday’s event but are interested in enrolling in a health plan, there will be two additional events before the Jan. 31 deadline: Jan. 28 at the Washtenaw Health Plan in Ypsilanti and Jan. 30 at the United Way in Ann Arbor.

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