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Published: Monday, 1/23/2006

Health-care plan for students stirs debate at BGSU

BY KIM BATES
BLADE STAFF WRITER

First they debated whether a future student health insurance plan should include abortion coverage. Now those at Bowling Green State University are talking about whether it will contain oral contraceptives.

The often controversial issues have been at the forefront of recent discussions by leaders who must select the university's first mandatory health plan for students. By fall semester this year, all students must either show proof of their own health insurance or buy into the university plan.

All students at the University of Toledo have been required to have health insurance for several years now. As more and more colleges across the country require mandatory health policies, BGSU leaders are not alone when dealing with concerns about what type of coverage should be afforded to students - including those areas that for some cross moral or religious lines.

"When you're dealing with mandatory insurance, versus voluntary, the impact of your decisions are at a greater magnitude," said Dr. Glenn Egelman, director and physician-in-chief for health services at BGSU. "This is a more intense, more thoughtful debate process."

Leaders at BGSU moved forward last fall with intent to implement a mandatory health policy, citing concerns about the number of uninsured or underinsured students on campus.

An impetus for the push, Dr. Egelman has said, was that he and others feared those students would be forced to leave the university if they were hit with high medical bills.

In the past, only law and international students at BGSU were required to have health coverage.

A health advisory committee, which includes students and faculty members, remains in the midst of trying to decide what that final plan will look like - and how much it will cost annually for students.

Issues have popped up along the way, including a few complaints that a previous university student health plan covered abortion, with one $300 abortion procedure claimed on the plan in a year's time.

Cognizant of the sensitivity of the issue, the BGSU health committee sought bids on separate plans from health care companies - those with abortion and birth control pills included, and those without.

Maria Khoury, 21, a BGSU student on the health committee, said last month that she felt it was her job to solicit as much student comment as possible about the pending health insurance - whatever the issue might be.

"I would encourage any student who has an issue to come to me," she said then.

Since that time, Dr. Egelman said the committee - after weighing available feedback from students on the matter - has decided that abortion coverage will continue through the future plan.

Those who have objections to it being included in their policies can opt out by showing proof of adequate insurance elsewhere, he said.

The discussion over oral contraception is continuing, he added. The committee plans to meet on campus Friday with potential health providers and discuss contracts further. In the past, BGSU has not included birth control coverage in its student health plan because of high cost; the pills actually were less expensive at pharmacies than they would have been in the group plan.

The university health plan has been available in past years to any student who wanted to pay for the service.

This last semester, just under 1,000 students used university student health insurance, while Dr. Egelman expects that number to climb this fall to include about 3,000 of the more than 21,000 BGSU students.

At UT, officials last year negotiated a new policy after complaints from students that the cost of the previous plan was too high.

Another major issue relating to the health coverage at UT has pertained to many students' desire to include oral contraceptives in the plan for the future, said Norine Wasielewski, senior director of health and wellness.

"I can say it's a priority for the student health insurance committee to address," she said.

While the American College Health Association recommends that colleges and universities require students to provide evidence of health insurance coverage as a condition of enrollment, not all schools do so.

For example, at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, the matter of mandatory health insurance is being reviewed again this semester following a similar study there in 2000. At that point, a poll of parents showed that 97 percent of university students were insured, said Dr. Robert Winfield, director of the university health service.

"I think that universities and colleges will have different goals with respect to requiring insurance," Dr. Winfield said. "The most compelling goal is for [students] to have insurance so they don't have to withdraw from school or fail because of uninsured health problems."

Contact Kim Bates at: kimbates@theblade.com or 419-724-6074.



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