Students see effects of changes in health care



After a five-year battle with multiple cancers and several surgeries, including the first open-esophagus throat surgery in the state of Florida, John Sarao died in February 2012. Sarao’s granddaughter, Kaitlyn Sarao, a University of Alabama senior majoring in art history, said her grandfather’s acid reflux diseases led in part to his development of stomach cancer.

Kaitlyn Sarao also has acid reflux disease.

“Basically, I know I have it, and it could get dangerous,” she said. “If it does, I could die, and if I don’t die, it will be really expensive.”

For some students, the realities of joining the working world and choosing health insurance benefits packages are rapidly approaching. Courtney Green, former president of the Alabama Insurance Society, said it is particularly important that students who are about to enter the workforce understand their options for health care in the light of the enactment of recent health care laws.

The Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as Obamacare, has garnered a great deal of controversy and debate ever since it was passed during President Obama’s first term. Green said she encourages anyone with questions about the act to do research or attend a meeting of the Alabama Insurance Society to learn more about it.

The act, which began to be rolled out Oct. 1, has already resulted in changes in the availability of health insurance by creating the Health Insurance Marketplace, an exchange website designed to help people shop private insurance plans and determine if they qualify for discounts based on household size and income. Some states operate their own marketplaces, but Alabama uses the federal one.

The website, healthcare.gov, is broken up into shopping for individuals, families and small businesses. After answering a series of questions, the site directs shoppers to relevant information about plans and programs. A premium estimation tool uses background information to put a price on possible plans, and live chat is available to guide shoppers through the process.

The act requires businesses of a certain size to provide their employees with health insurance; however, businesses with fewer than 50 workers do not have to provide health insurance to their employees under the law. For small businesses that do choose to offer health care benefits, the Health Insurance Marketplace is an option to shop for plans.

How the marketplace and new provisions from the Affordable Care Act will affect students entering the workforce is not yet clear, but there are some relevant considerations to predict the impact.

“Students will have health care benefits that they didn’t have before, and so from that perspective, they’re going to be potentially covered from huge losses they could have had if they had a health event, right?” Susan Chen, assistant economics professor, said. “So from that perspective, it’s going to be good, but if it causes businesses to go under, and it shrinks the number of employers, then that would be bad, but it remains to be seen whether it’s going to do that or not.”

People who do not have any kind of coverage in 2014 will have to pay a fee unless they qualify for an exemption. The fee is $95 per adult, $47.50 per child, or 1 percent of income, but anyone on Medicare, Medicaid, a job-based plan, a personally purchased plan, COBRA, retiree coverage, TRICARE, veterans health care plans and peace corps volunteer plans count as covered.

The University continues to offer a “Student Injury and Sickness Insurance Plan” to eligible UA students on a semester-to-semester basis through United Healthcare Student Resources, with some changes, which went into effect Aug. 2, due to the Affordable Care Act.

Preventive health care services from in-network providers are now covered at 100 percent of the allowed charges, but all out-of-network preventive health care is not covered. For example, all generic contraceptives, annual physicals and eye exams received from an in-network provider are covered.

United Healthcare Student Resources has an easily accessible list of providers who are considered in-network in any area.

The ACA added new coverage as well, including acne, foot care, attempted suicide, obesity, alcohol and drug addiction, and sleep disorder coverage.

Until just recently, many students would find themselves out of coverage shortly after graduation, but with the Affordable Health Care Act, people up to the age of 26 can remain on their parents’ health care plans.

“Since I plan on going to law school, it will be a while before I will be able to fully support myself, so it’s a relief to know I won’t be out of coverage if I need it,” Sarao said.

 

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