The University of Maine System will require proof of health insurance before students enroll in classes beginning next fall.
The new Student Health Insurance Policy will kick in this August and eligible students will automatically be enrolled in the program and have the $942 annual premium cost added to their student account.
“There is a requirement to have health insurance in this country, and we’re trying to make it as a affordable as possible for students,” said Lisa Belanger, the director of Health Services at USM. She said one of the reasons for this new requirement is the federal Affordable Care Act and that the university wants to make sure all students have access to health care while they pursue their education.
“Before, we had a student health plan, but it was not required,” said Belanger. “Insurance companies are not going to support that method of enrollment anymore.”
All students will be required to enroll if they fit certain criteria: taking nine credits or more as an undergraduate and six credits or more as a graduate student. If a student fits either of these or doesn’t already have insurance, they will have to enroll in the new plan. Students already enrolled in a health care plan can opt out of this plan by signing a waiver before the first of October.
“I was dropped from my parents’ insurance just this past winter, so I’m really grateful to have this available to me,” said junior history major Amanda Woods.
“I really like the the university is offering this plan. It sounds cheap and easy,” said junior psychology major Ben Pohl. “I don’t know if I’m into it being completely automatic though.”
Pohl said that he is embarrassed to know so little about healthcare options.
“I just haven’t paid any attention,” said Pohl when asked about the Affordable Care Act.
An informational session on ACA was held at USM at the beginning of March, but few students were in attendance. Jake Grindle of Western Maine Community Action noted at the event that most students would still be covered under their parents’ insurance.
“This is an affordable rate for students and there is a value to having health insurance,” said Belanger, who recalled meeting with a student last week who said they were paying up to $500 a month for coverage.
While an official notice hadn’t been sent out yet from the system office last week, a short notice explaining the plan had been posted on the USM website. So far, many students are not aware of the plan.
“I heard a friend of mine mention it in passing earlier in the week, but they didn’t know much,” said undeclared freshman Pat Forester. “I’m covered by my parents, but I definitely want to know more about it.”
Belanger noted that getting the word out to students is a top priority right now.
“We’re going to try to do everything that we can to get this information out,” she said. “We will pursue as many ways to market this as possible.”
When Belanger came to speak about the plan at the student senate meeting on Friday, April 18, some senators expressed concerns about making the option to opt-out well known.
“I’m a bit concerned. People tend to not opt-out of things,” said Will Gattis, a senior economics major and former senate vice-chair. “I want this opt-out option to be 100 percent clear to students so they aren’t surprised by another bill on their account.”
Belanger said she knows there will be issues when the opt-out deadline rolls around and that she couldn’t guarantee that every single student was going to know and understand the new policy.
She said issues with opting-out or any other problems that arise will have to be handled on a case-by-case basis and that more information on that will be released by the UMaine system at a later date.
“I would say this is a shift in thinking, it’s a shift that’s happening nationally, and that USM is going to be a part of it,” said Belanger.