NAICU Washington Update

Hazy Outlook on Student Health Coverage as Congress Moves on Health Care Reform

November 10, 2009

Even with the House of Representatives passing its version of health reform this past weekend, the outlook for student health coverage remains unclear. With Senate Republicans already declaring the House bill dead on arrival, and many members of the health committees in public disagreement over numerous provisions, there is no clear timeline or prediction if negotiators can draft a bill that will gain the approval of both chambers.

Although the Senate Finance Committee narrowly approved a health reform package last month, Senate leaders will not move a bill to floor consideration until December at the earliest.

The House bill includes language providing coverage until age 27. Many young adults lose coverage at age 19, or upon completing college a few years later. The language would bridge any gaps in insurance and allow continuing coverage.

Last month, House Democratic leaders held a press conference announcing that essential health provisions for young Americans would be a key component of any final health care reform package. These included extended coverage until age 27, greater choice, stability, and security of insurance coverage.

The Democrats' press conference came a day after the Senate Finance Committee approved its health care package. The committee's package eliminates limited duration insurance products. There is concern that this may affect college-sponsored student health insurance, but it is not dealt with or mentioned specifically.

After many inquiries and conversations with Finance member offices and committee staff, it's clear that no exclusion was intended by any member of the committee. Since the Senate Finance bill has not been drafted into legislative language yet and is still in conceptual form, committee staff are considering language to clarify this unintended generalization. During bill deliberation the committee lauded colleges and universities for the excellent health services they provide.

The American College Health Association alerted its membership to a potential problem in the Finance bill, subsequently reported by Inside Higher Ed, questioning the status of college-provided student health coverage. Since then, representatives from Aetna have been canvassing college campuses on the issue.

If the Finance bill passes on the Senate floor, there will be two very different health reform bills that need to be reconciled. The largest and most controversial difference--aside from whether to include a "public option"--is offsetting the cost of the Senate bill with a new surtax on "Cadillac" health plans, which includes most PPOs, versus the House strategy of a sweeping surtax on high-income taxpayers.

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