It is burdensome enough when college students suffer from serious or sudden health problems. It’s downright devastating when they are forced to drop out of school because of the lofty medical bills. To remedy situations like this and reduce the rising costs of student health care, the Michigan Student Assembly is urging administrators to consider the merits of requiring all University students to carry health insurance. If the University (which has been receptive to the idea) finds a suitable plan, it’s imperative that it enacts this policy.

Although the University has considered the idea of mandating health insurance coverage for several years, MSA’s resolution last month hopes to light a fire under the University. Citing rising premiums, one of the most promising ways of lowering health care costs is requiring students to get coverage through the University’s student insurance plan. The resolution requests that the University consider ways to reduce health care costs for students present its findings before school starts this fall. The University is responding enthusiastically to the charge.

There are two ways to do this. Require all students to buy the University’s student health care plan or prove that they have insurance. The second option means that students covered by their parents would not have to buy insurance but those who weren’t would have it. The overall point, though, is to make sure that all students are covered, which should be the goal – one that many universities, public and private, have already done successfully.

While the University offers a plan to students already, this coverage is too expensive for many students to afford. The annual premium for a domestic student costs more than $2,100 – up from an actual cost of $621 for the same plan in 1998. However, MSA’s resolution notes that the premium for international students is much cheaper at $81 per month. One reason may be that all international students are required to buy insurance, unless they prove their current coverage meets the University’s standards. The logic is simple: As more people sign on with the same insurance plan, average costs are typically reduced because total cost is dispersed across more people.

Many of the University’s uninsured students are not uninsured by choice – they simply can’t afford the coverage. While requiring insurance would also increase the cost of attending the University because it would be an attendance cost, those costs could be offset for lower income students with financial aid. But the cost would be small compared to the potential cost of sickness or injury.

The University should – and hopefully does – value the health and finances of its students. The health care mandate works to protect both. In light of the federal government’s failure to provide citizens with access to affordable medical coverage, this plan could also serve as a model of a universal health care system that works. It could set an example to other organizations considering similar plans. The University should send a strong message that it believes that access to basic health care is a fundamental right. It is that important.

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