Michigan State University is now mandating that its students be covered by health care insurance, a requirement being phased in with the current freshman class.
The mandate has caught the attention of some in the Michigan House of Representatives. A Feb. 15 hearing before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Higher Education has been scheduled to examine the issue.
“We're really concerned about this," said House Subcommittee Vice Chair Rep. Kevin Cotter, R-Mt. Pleasant. "This policy is not uncommon with private colleges, but it hasn't been the policy at state universities. A big concern is that MSU would just be the first."
Despite a request, university officials were not willing to set the policy aside, Rep. Cotter said. He said he views the policy as a mandate that adds to the cost of a university education.
“It can be an added burden to students,” he said. “Typically, students graduate with a large debt to pay off. In four years this would add $6,000 to that debt and quite often it takes more than four years to finish college. When you look at the extra cost and figure in compound interest it can really add to the debt."
MSU spokesman Kent Cassella said the mandate is an extension of a policy that has existed for select other groups.
“This has already been a requirement for some of our students, such as foreign students, medical students and veterinarian students,” he said, adding that the university is not financially responsible for unpaid bills.
"This is a public health issue. The financial risks are real," he continued. "Students who aren't covered and run up big health care debts can end up not being able to complete their education."
Cassella said that 85 percent of the students who enroll at MSU are already covered by health insurance provided by their parents or someone else. For those not already covered, the university offers Aetna at an annual cost of $1,505.
“We think that's a good price,” Cassella said. “The university makes absolutely no money off of this.”
MSU has made every effort to inform parents about the new policy, Cassella said. If the university hasn't been able to verify that a student already has coverage, they're enrolled in Aetna and the cost is part of the bill received by the parent or whomever else is responsible for the student's education costs.
If it turns out that the student is double covered, the university will drop the Aetna coverage.
“If they can show us that the student is already covered, they are reimbursed the cost,” Cassella said.
House Subcommittee Chair Bob Genetski, R-Saugatuck, refers to the new MSU policy as an "Obamacare-style mandate."
“It's a barrier to entry and to education,” Rep. Genetski said. “The average student graduates with a debt of about $24,000. Keeping in mind the rising costs of tuition, this Obamacare-style mandate will put some students' educations in jeopardy.”
When told of the MSU claim that it isn't making a penny off the mandate, Rep. Genetski was skeptical.
“I find that interesting,” he said. “There's similar insurance students can get through Grand Valley State University that only costs $654 per year. There's also the problem of billing the parents and assuming they'll notice. I think some of them might look at their bill but not recognize what it is.”
Mike Boulus, executive director of the Presidents Council, State Universities of Michigan, said the policy is a decision that should be left up to the university.
“Universities in Michigan haven't been doing this but about 25 percent of universities nationwide have this policy,” Boulus said. “It really is all about someone's philosophy. Some people are very opposed to mandates. But I can tell you that about $1,000 of what I pay for my health insurance covers those who are uninsured — and it's the same with your insurance costs. A lot of the same people who oppose this kind of mandate, are fine with the mandate that they have to insure the vehicle they use to drive through MSU.”