The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

An uninsured future

More than a year ago, graduate student Karrie Johnson was at a mall enjoying a gumball when she broke a tooth. Although she lost about half of the tooth, Johnson said she waited about a year to have it even looked at by a dentist because she did not have health insurance. By the time she made an appointment, her tooth was badly infected, she said. Now she needs a root canal.

Johnson lost her health insurance in May 2005 when she became a graduate student at the UW-Eau Claire. She said she was dropped from her parents’ insurance plan because she was only able to attend school part time. Now, Johnson is a public relations major with health insurance through state-run Badger Care, though she said she was uninsured for about four years.

Despite her new plan does not offer dental care coverage, Johnson said she is relieved to now have some health insurance.

“I was worried about something drastic happening and being stuck with thousands of dollars in medical bills because I didn’t have coverage,” she said.

According to a report released in March 2008 by the United States Government Accountability Office, about 1.7 million traditional-aged college students, or 20 percent, are uninsured in the United States.

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In 2008, the 1.7 million uninsured students racked up from $120 to $255 million in uncompensated, non injury-related medical care, according to the report. The characteristics of uninsured students were found to be consistent with those of uninsured non-college students.

Groups more likely to be uninsured included part-time students, students with lower family incomes and Hispanic, black and Asian students.

The report also stated students from the Northeast and Midwest were more likely to have insurance than students from the West and South.

The report found the majority of insured college students received their health insurance through another person’s policy, such as by being dependents on parents’ policies. These students were typically aged between 18 to 23 years old. The report also stated in 2006, a total of 67 percent of students received health insurance through employer-sponsored plans, which cover employees and their dependents; 7 percent through other private insurance plans, including student insurance plans offered by colleges, and 6 percent through public programs, like Medicaid.

Don Southard of the Southard Insurance Agency of Eau Claire said one reason college students become uninsured is because they become ineligible to stay on their parents’ plan. He said age and the number of credits a student takes can affect whether or not they can remain dependants on a parent’s policy.

The Southard Insurance Agency provides a student insurance plan for UW-Eau Claire, which is underwritten by the Columbian Life Insurance Company. According to the policy, students taking five or more credits are eligible for the plan. Dependants of UWEC students are also eligible for coverage.

According to Southard Insurance, there are currently 113 UWEC students enrolled in the plan. Last year, 171 were enrolled.

Associate Dean of Students Jodi Thesing-Ritter said it is important for students to have health insurance and said she thought the student insurance plan provided through Southard Insurance was also important.

“Now is it the very best health insurance that students could possibly get? Probably not,” Thesing-Ritter said. “But for the cost and the scope of coverage, it’s a good deal for students.”

She said the plan is the lowest costing plan with the widest span of coverage for students in the UW System. Thesing-Ritter also said students need health insurance to protect them financially from the high cost of emergency medical bills.

However, students graduating from UW-Eau Claire also face becoming uninsured. Senior Lauren Buelow will graduate in December, thus losing her parent’s insurance. Buelow said she is nervous at the prospect of not having health insurance but hopes she will be able to find employment that will offer benefits.

“It’s a weird situation that I’m in right now, actually, because I don’t know what my employment is going to be like,” she said. “And I don’t know what my income level is going to be.”

As graduation looms, Buelow said she is overwhelmed at the prospect of trying to find insurance for herself, which is something she admits she knows little about.

“These are life lessons that I’m going to have to learn really fast,” she said.

For more information on the UWEC student insurance program visit the Student Senate Web site.

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An uninsured future