University of North Texas student Angela Quijano didn’t think about health insurance much before the Affordable Care Act. She says she didn’t know how the health insurance system worked and found getting coverage confusing.
Quijano did know one thing, though: she couldn’t go to the doctor because she didn’t have any health insurance.
“Nobody ever really talks about it. My parents basically told me when I had it, or (when) I didn’t have it,” Quijano, a 22-year-old senior majoring in political science, says. “Not too many of us think about it until it comes time to get a yearly checkup or something comes up.”
Quijano is one of the estimated thousands of uninsured people between the ages of 18 and 29 in Texas. It’s estimated that 38.3 percent of people ages 18 to 29 did not have health insurance in Texas in 2010, according to the Department of State Health Services. With more than six million people uninsured, the state has the highest uninsured rate in the nation.
Young people are a key part of the health care law, also known as Obamacare. The federal government needs 2.7 million young people to sign up for health insurance in order to balance out the older, sicker people getting coverage. But many who are of the student age don’t know how to navigate the health care system. Some don’t even know they are required by law to have health insurance beginning next year.\
In Texas, federal navigators and health care advocates are launching efforts aimed at informing students about the new health insurance options and making sure students know they need to have insurance by Dec. 15 (in order for it to count for January), or pay a fine when they file their taxes.
Officials say the federally-run health insurance marketplace will provide many options for students looking to get health insurance coverage. But students will likely have to sift through a lot of information. What’s more, some students will see their health insurance premiums go up because Obamacare requires insurance companies to cover up to $500,000 of medical costs this year, and unlimited coverage next year.
Mimi Garcia, the Texas director of Enroll America, a group whose volunteers speak with people about how to get health insurance under Obamacare, says many students have never had to think about getting covered before.
“It’s a new thing that you have to learn and it’s part of that process of establishing yourself in the world,” Garcia says. “It’s like learning how to open up a bank account.”
How To Get Insurance
Students have several ways they can get health insurance: through their parents, through a job that offers health benefits, by purchasing a plan through their university, or, as of Oct. 1, via the new insurance marketplace. Students who are under 18 or have children of their own can qualify for the state-run Children’s Health Insurance Program or Medicaid.
One provisions of Obamacare allows people 26 of age and below to stay on their parents’ health insurance at no extra cost if their parents have a family plan.
Another alternative is getting health insurance through their universities. Although there is no law requiring them to do so, many Texas colleges and universities offer optional student health insurance at discounted rates.
Students insured through their universities are covered up to $500,000 in health care costs under Obamacare, an increase from $100,000 this past academic year, according to Enroll America. All the plans must now cover hospital visits, sickness, prescription medications and various therapies, among others.
The UT System, for instance, insures about 17,000 students through Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas. Rates range from $1,432 for a single student per year, and increase based on the number of people on the plan, including spouses and children.
Students can also buy health insurance by semester, which can be a more affordable option than buying it upfront for a whole year. The Texas A&M University and Texas Tech University Systems also offer student health insurance plans through the school.
Although student health insurance plans will now offer more coverage for students, Laura Chambers, director of UT’s Office of Employment Benefits, says she is concerned about how student premiums might increase under Obamacare.
“We try really hard to make the product affordable and what students can afford is really dependent on the student. We have no way of knowing what is affordable to the whole student population,” Chambers says.
Chambers says insurance premiums went up about $200 for UT students since last year because of the new law. Texas A&M and Texas Tech also saw their student premiums increase after the new law went into effect this year.
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas provides insurance to more than 35,000 students in Texas. Officials confirm that premiums did increase for their students this past year.
Randy Starns, the insurer’s divisional vice president of student health markets, says premiums would go up again next year because companies will be required to provide unlimited coverage. Starns says he did not know how much premiums will increase.
However, Starns insisted that even though costs will go up, Obamacare is transforming student health coverage. Starns says insurance companies can no longer offer students limited coverage assuming that since students were young and healthy, there was not that much coverage needed.
Finally, students – like all other adults – can choose to go on the federal health insurance marketplace online (healthcare.gov) to get coverage. Texas has about 70 plans for students to choose from that vary in price and are available based on where anyone lives.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, individual students who make $11,490 or less and not more than $45,960 will qualify for an advanced tax credit to pay less for health insurance each month.
On average, a 27-year-old making $25,000 a year would pay between $83 and $145 a month for a basic health insurance plan after receiving tax credits.
Students who choose not to get insurance by December will pay a $95 penalty per year when they file their tax returns. If a student is a dependent and files with their parents, the fine will appear on their parents’ tax returns.
Environmental management graduate student Tommy LaPoint, 25, says the cost of the plan would be among his top considerations.
LaPoint got off his parent’s health insurance plan when he was 18 and is insured through St. Edward’s University in Austin.
“As a student, everything is really expensive to afford,” LaPoint says. “Adding something that’s not going to give you immediate benefits right away is going to seem even more expensive.”