The Daily Tar Heel

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Friday December 3rd

Column: Why the Affordable Care Act matters for college students

<p>Participants spread out in the grass during Friday’s die-in in Durham in reaction to the possible changes in health care policies.</p>
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Participants spread out in the grass during Friday’s die-in in Durham in reaction to the possible changes in health care policies.

During last week’s vice presidential debate, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris simplified the complexities of modern health care with an alarming, direct-to-camera warning: “They’re coming for you.”

She repeated the line three times, but as a college student, I heard her last variation the loudest: “If you’re under the age of 26 on your parent’s coverage,” Harris said, “they’re coming for you.”

She is right. Next month, with the support of the Trump administration, the Affordable Care Act will be tried again before the Supreme Court. If the law is overturned, college students — especially students of color — will lose the great benefits it offers. Harris was specifically highlighting part of the policy that, if overturned, will force many individuals under the age of 26 off of their parents’ plan and into the insurance marketplace. 

Before former President Barack Obama passed the law in 2010, many insurance companies cut children off of family plans purely because of their age. Without the ACA, there is nothing stopping insurance companies from resuming those cuts immediately. For any college students fortunate enough to be on their parents’ insurance plan, this part of the law is an enormous deal. 

There are two stages where the under-26 protection matters to a UNC student: while enrolled in classes, and right after graduation.

First, while enrolled, UNC students face the UNC System’s “hard waiver” process. Because UNC requires that degree-seeking on-campus students have health insurance, they must either cough up proof of an outside insurance plan, or enroll in Student Blue at the start of every school year.

You might remember this as the yearly emails from Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina, whose plan will cost you $217 per month for Student Blue if you cannot provide a waiver for an outside plan.

Filling out this waiver can be a stressful enough task at the start of the year, but without the ACA, more students would be cut from their family plan and would be spending their syllabus week enrolling in Student Blue or shopping for another plan.

The Century Foundation, a progressive nonpartisan think tank, estimates that the number of students that can stay on their family plan has risen by four percent since the passage of the ACA. That is 760 UNC undergraduates that can avoid shopping for and enrolling in Student Blue or a separate plan at the start of classes, able to spend that time on student life instead.

The second — and more important — time the under-26 protection matters for students is directly following graduation. Students not on their parents' plan will find Student Blue expiring and will need to find a new form of insurance through an employer or otherwise. This is hard for young adults finding work out of college. It would be especially hard in, say, a nationwide economic downturn onset by a pandemic.

Avoiding these lapses in health insurance coverage is crucial. In the words of the UNC Campus Health website, "Young adults who go without health insurance may be one accident or illness away from a lifetime of medical bills and debt.”

With chances like that, the ACA is invaluable for recent graduates. To cover students in this gap after graduation is a huge step in increasing coverage among young adults, allowing them to live a life out of college less afraid of illness and injury.

The good news is that the November challenge to the ACA is not perceived as a real threat by most of the legal community — and the ACA is finding more and more support among the public.

Though, depending on how the Supreme Court is rebalanced in the coming months, many predict that the existence of the ACA will be challenged again. The best thing students can do is to push for accountability from public officials who are in control of health insurance law. We should seek to do that on the ballot next month.

For many students, the ability to enjoy family coverage until 26 means more time to study, participate on campus and then figure out our lives once we graduate. It is absolutely worth defending.


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