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Effects of upheld Affordable Care Act start to emerge

Nothing in life comes free — not even health coverage, which all University students are required to have.

Students on the University-provided insurance plan recently saw their premiums increase from $460.50 to $709 per semester as insurance providers expanded coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

On June 28, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld most of the provisions of the Affordable Care Act. The bill — signed into law by President Barack Obama more than two years ago — seeks to expand insurance benefits to more than 30 million uninsured Americans.

While the bill’s implementation has been a long time in the making, its effects on student health insurance are just now being seen.

Per the federal mandate, insurance providers must expand coverage to include birth control and many preventative services ­— such as blood pressure tests and flu shots — at no deductible or co-pay.

Mary Covington, executive director for Campus Health Services, said although patients’ out-of-pocket expenses are reduced, insurance companies will continue to raise their rates if there is an increase in claims.

“We should all stay away from the word ‘free’ because nothing is ever free,” Covington said. “Eventually the cost of (benefits) will somehow be put into the cost of the policy as soon as they figure out how much it costs.”

Covington said it is too soon to tell if Campus Health Services will see an influx of student interest for birth control with the new provisions.

But she hopes students will make decisions about insurance plans based on medical needs and not solely on the expanded benefits offered.

About one-third of UNC students opt into the University-provided insurance, administered by Pearce & Pearce, Inc.

All students in the UNC system have been required to have a health insurance plan since the 2010-11 school year.

Carolyn Pearce, chief operating officer at the agency, said the cost of insurance is going up everywhere — not just at Pearce & Pearce.

“When you compare this plan to other school plans, this is still a great buy,” she said.

While some students still appreciate the mandated health insurance, others wonder why it is required by the University and now the government, too.

Freshman Becky Rodriguez, who is on her father’s insurance plan, said she doesn’t know why insurance is required for all students — especially if they are healthy or can’t afford it.

“The idea (behind the Affordable Care Act) is ideal,” Rodriguez said.

“But if it’s something that’s supposed to be universal for everyone to have, I don’t think it should have such a strong price tag on it.”

Bruce Mallette, vice president for academic and student affairs for the UNC system, said health insurance costs are factored into students’ financial aid profiles.

Mallette said whether students choose to purchase Pearce & Pearce’s insurance plan or find another plan is up to them.

“The health insurance plan is as much about educating students of their option to waive out with credible care coverage as it is to purchasing, because UNC is not trying to force students to purchase this plan,” he said.

Despite recent controversy around insurance coverage, Covington said she recognizes the fears students might have about the health care law.

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“Overall, I think whenever you have this huge policy change that affects so many people and so many agencies, there’s always going to be a lot of apprehension right at first,” she said.

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