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WVU 1st in state to require student ACA insurance

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Dillon Tucker, a student at West Virginia University, has been going through college without health insurance. Next year, though, WVU will require him to be covered and will offer him a plan through the university that is tailored to students.

"I have mixed emotions about it, because money is hard, especially when you're a student and paying for college on your own," he said. "But not having insurance is a very scary thing. It makes you nervous when you start to feel like you're getting sick. To be honest, there have been several times when I was sick but I pushed through, because I knew I couldn't afford the huge bills."

Tucker, a finance major from Winfield, is among the 15 percent of WVU students who have no form of health insurance.

The new student health insurance requirement will be implemented by fall 2014, in compliance with the Affordable Care Act, and while 85 percent of WVU students have some form of insurance, the school's Student Government Association is working to better inform the smaller percentage that is still confused about how the policy will affect them.

Ryan Campione, WVU's student body president, said that when he talks to students around campus, there is uncertainty.

"For students who don't have insurance, they're concerned. Because it's such a complex issue, there's a lot of worry right now. They want to know how they'll be affected," Campione said. "This is going to help students by simplifying a very complicated issue and offering a one-stop shop. There are going to be a lot more resources available -- a whole support network."

The new system will offer all WVU students without insurance an affordable plan through Aetna Student Health but will not require students to select that particular plan, according to Cathy Yura, WVU's assistant vice president for student wellness.

WVU employees also will direct interested students to state resources that can help them find other suitable insurance plans, Yura said.

Aetna's plan costs $1,542 each year, with deductibles ranging from $150 for WVU-based care to $500 for preferred care.

Just last week, WVU's Student Health Center referred 48 students to various medical clinics, according to Yura.

"Without insurance, these medical bills could create a financial burden that could alter a student's ability to continue to take classes. Even common health issues can alter finances -- as well as time -- for students," Yura said. "Young adults often do not think they will get ill, but we know that there are accidents and medical conditions that can drastically change their plans."

The insurance requirement is in addition to several changes to WVU's student health services, including a partnership with WVU Urgent Care and the creation of a new wellness facility.

WVU is the first college in the state to actually require students to sign up for insurance, but the Higher Education Policy Commission began offering college students a plan through its schools in July.

HEPC Commissioner Paul Hill said the commission saw "an unmet need at our public institutions" when it came to health care.

"Students face hosts of financial hurdles during their college years," Hill said, "and without health coverage, even one minor health issue can cause insurmountable hardships and impact a student's ability to complete their studies."

The HEPC decision was first discussed in 2012 and was the result of issues that were voiced to the commission by the State Advisory Council of Students, which called for more health-care options offered by West Virginia's colleges.

"The intent was to offer students an optional insurance product at the lowest possible price and to allow each campus to offer features based on their unique needs," Hill said of the statewide plan. "This conversation at the commission came about independently from national health reform, under which our student plan is simply one of the options available for coverage."

Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.mays@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.


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