The worst part about getting sick should be falling behind in school. For uninsured students, a serious illness can mean a serious medical bill — and too much debt to afford tuition. Rising health care costs are hitting Americans hard and, for some, can pose an obstacle to obtaining a college degree. But it doesn’t need to be this way. Thankfully, a health plan assuring that all University students are covered in order to attend the University will likely reach the University’s executive officers and Board of Regents soon. It’s been a long time coming, and at this point, access to affordable health care for students can’t come soon enough.

The proposed plan is the result of eight years of work by Robert Winfield, director of University Health Service. It would not force students to buy University-provided health insurance coverage; it would simply require each student to have some type of insurance in order to enroll for classes. A University insurance policy would exist, as it does now, but students could opt out of it if they are already covered — though, by their parents’ plan, for instance. The new policy is based on systems already in place at the University of Minnesota and the University of California.

Of the several options available, this plan has taken the best route. Some schools unnecessarily require that all students, even if they have coverage through their parents, buy health care plans provided through their universities. This doesn’t do that — and it shouldn’t. What this plan does do is correct a glaring problem on campus: that all students are not protected from medical emergencies. The need is real: A 2005 survey of University students found that 5.6 percent of undergraduate and 10.5 percent of graduate students were uninsured.

A natural priority of the new proposal is to keep the plan affordable, and as the plan stands, it does that. If this is passed, the University’s insurance plan would cost about $1,700 a year. That is roughly 25 percent cheaper than the current plan, and should be cheap enough that it is accessible for all students.The cost is more reasonable when you consider that because the $1,700 would be mandatory for any student entering the University without insurance, economically disadvantaged students would be eligible for financial aid to cover the cost.

More broadly, this plan will ensure that being a part of the University community also means the community will support you. By mandating health care coverage, this plan fulfills University’s responsibility to ensure the health and safety of its students. Yes, in a roundabout way that means some students who can afford the extra cost will be helping to lower the cost for others who are not as fortunate. But the point of this effort is to prevent all students from having to choose between paying tuition or medical bills. Assuring that the student next to you in lecture can continue at this university even if tragedy strikes is an essential part of what this university’s community is about.

As it is now, the University is plunging deeper into the same health care problems that plague the rest of the nation. With the proposal slated for presentation in the coming weeks, Winfield and E. Royster Harper, vice president for student affairs, are right to prioritize this issue. The regents should follow their lead in passing this system. There are students’ futures at stake.

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