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Health coverage may be required for all U. students

ASUU v.p. leading effort on insurance by school or private plan

Worried that not enough students at the University of Utah have health insurance, some student leaders say the university should require that all students are covered, either by the school's plan or their own.

The 64-member Student Congress will hold a special meeting Tuesday to consider sending a resolution to university officials mandating insurance.

"We don't want to say the sky is falling, but there is a great concern," said Ali Hasnain, president of the Associated Students of the University of Utah. He, along with ASUU Vice President John Poelman, is leading the effort.

An estimated 20 percent, or 5,800, of the 29,000 University of Utah students are uninsured, yet only about 2,000 students subscribe to the school's health plan.

That is partly because the premium is high: Students this year pay $1,123 to participate, and estimates suggest a premium increase of up to 40 percent for next year if the plan is to remain viable.

Because so few students participate — and because those who do tend to have chronic health problems — the insurer pays out $1.06 in claims for every $1 it earns, said Kerry Hill, the school's health coordinator.

Mandating that students have some form of health insurance would likely push more students into the school's plan, resulting in lower premiums.

From 1993 to 1997, the university mandated health insurance, and more than 3,000 students used the school's health plan, which kept premiums low.

The school's health-insurance premiums rose 12 percent this year and could have been higher but more than 800 graduate students — a group considered healthier and low risk — signed up for the plan. The graduate schools subsidizes 80 percent of their students' premiums.

Next year, the insurer will not allow the grad students to be consolidated with the undergraduates, which could cause premiums for undergrads to jump from 25 percent to 40 percent, Hill said.

Tiffany Trinh, a fourth-year biology student who plans to go to medical school, said if the student health plan dies, students will suffer. A member of the student health advisory committee, Trinh said the university needs to require students to have some sort of health insurance.

"The university has an obligation," she said. "We put so many resources into educating students. We should take great pains to make sure students are healthy as well."