health insurance

Photo Credit: John Massingill | Daily Texan Staff

Obamacare has been a controversial policy since its inception in 2009, but now, one particular advertisement for Colorado’s state health exchange has been drawing scrutiny.

The ad features a young woman standing next to a young man, excitedly brandishing a package of birth control pills. The ad’s copy, presumably from the point of view of the young woman, reads, “Let’s get physical: OMG he’s hot! Let’s hope he’s as easy to get as this birth control. My health insurance covers the pill, which means all I have to worry about is getting him between the covers.”

This ad came out hot on the heels of another ad spot by the same group, titled “Brosurance,” in which college-aged men doing keg stands express gratitude that their health care costs won’t cut into their beer money.

These ads have been subject to a slew of criticism and defense since they were released by Got Insurance?, a website funded by two advocacy groups, the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative and ProgressNow Colorado Education. In a congressional hearing on Obamacare’s botched rollout, Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Colorado, slammed Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius for the Brosurance ad — despite the fact that Sebelius was not involved in the ad’s creation — and liberal Slate magazine rushed to the defense of the ads after conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh attacked them as promoting promiscuity

Given the politicization of Obamacare, it’s not surprising that the conversation about these ads turned into partisan attacks. But what is concerning is the lack of attention paid to the portrayal of young people in the ads. 

Young people as a group have not traditionally spent a lot on health insurance, but Obamacare aims to change that. According to an article this month from Time magazine, in order for the individual mandate provision of the Affordable Care Act to work, 2.7 million out of the 7 million people who sign up for Obamacare need to be young people who will, on average, put more money into the system than they get out of it. Looking at these statistics, it’s understandable why a state health care exchange feels the need to appeal directly to the young. But the way the Got Insurance? campaign trivializes the health care needs of young adults is unacceptable. 

These ads portray college-aged individuals as a demographic driven entirely by their most basic impulses. Instead of paying attention to actual portrayals of the young who need health insurance, the Colorado Initiative and ProgressNow made the disappointing choice to focus on crass caricatures straight out of MTV reality shows. 

Real college-aged people can be bankrupted by accidents, diseases and assaults, and it does those people a disservice to be portrayed as idiots whose actions are governed solely by sex and alcohol.

ProgressNow Director Amy Runyon-Harms told the Denver Post, “The whole intention of these ads is to raise awareness, and that’s what we’re doing. It’s great that more and more people are talking about it.” 

It’s fine that Runyon-Harms wants to raise awareness about health insurance for young people, but several of the ads released de-emphasize the reasons why it’s important for everyone to have insurance and instead paint college students in broad, unflattering strokes. Although we don’t live within the scope of the Colorado state health exchange, it’s problematic that any influential person thinks young people will be motivated by messages about alcohol and sex more than any other sentiment. Health insurance is a real issue. People on college campuses across the country need to demand a more delicate and respectful approach to the issues that face young people if we want the national perception of youth to evolve beyond the lowest common denominator.

Matula is a finance junior from Austin. Follow Matula on Twitter @chucketlist.

Enrollment for the new health care marketplace mandated by President Barack Obama’s health care reform legislation opens on Tuesday, and many uninsured students will be required to buy health insurance. Currently, Texas has the highest rate of uninsured people in the nation.

Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Americans will be required to have health insurance to cover accidents and injuries by 2014.

Bob Moos, Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services public affairs specialist, said those who are able to afford health insurance but do not purchase coverage by March 31, 2014, will be required to pay either $95 or 1 percent of their annual
income, whichever amount is greater. People who earn less than $10,000 annually are exempt from paying the fee.

Students who are not part of their parents’ health care plan will be able to obtain coverage through an employer, University Health Services or the health insurance marketplace.

The option with the least expensive premiums is the catastrophic health insurance plan, which covers accidents and injuries. People younger than 30 will be able to choose among four of these plans and the monthly premiums start at $104, Moos said.

“They protect you against the catastrophes in life — against very high medical bills — and they have lower premiums because they aren’t providing as extensive coverage as some of the other types of health plans,” Moos said. “You can say that the catastrophic plans basically protect you from the worst case scenarios.”

Moos said the catastrophic plan also includes three doctors visits per year. 

UHS currently offers students a Preferred Provider Organization plan with a maximum of $500,000 in annual benefits per student, but beginning in 2015, student health insurance plans provided by universities will provide unlimited coverage, Laura Chambers, director of the Office of Employee Benefits at the UT System, said.

Jaclyn Nguyen, Business Healthcare Association president, said she has noticed many students are unsure of what the whole health care reform package involves. She said she wishes more students were aware of the changes the act entails, because health insurance policies will affect their families and health for years to come.

“Whether you agree or disagree with new policy changes, exposure to policy is key,” Nguyen said.

Biochemistry freshman Lindsey Wilhelm said she is one of the students who doesn’t really understand the implications of the Affordable Care Act, even though she wishes she did.

“I’d like to understand it, especially since I’m going into the health care field,” Wilhelm said. “I often hear that doctors dislike it, but I don’t know how true that is.”

Mechanical engineering freshman Michele Koziol said she felt the same way.

“I definitely don’t [understand the reforms],” Koziol said. “I don’t really know if I’m for or against it because I don’t really know all the aspects of it and what it entails, so I wouldn’t know until I’m officially working … until I’m working and on my own, I’d have no idea.”

Workers who built two west campus apartment complexes claim they were mistreated while working on the projects. The workers say they were not given breaks, water or overtime pay.

Photo Credit: Zachary Strain | Daily Texan Staff

Current freshmen not withstanding, UT students couldn’t have missed the new high-rise apartment complexes being built in West Campus last year. However, beneath the cranes and exposed beams of 2400 Nueces and The Callaway House, it has been alleged, construction workers suffered repeated and systemic mistreatment by their employers.

As The Daily Texan reported on Sept. 6, construction workers have filed complaints with the City of Austin alleging that the contractors overseeing the two sites denied them breaks and water throughout their day-long shifts. Austin--although not the state of Texas--requires that workers be given 10-minute breaks for every four hours of work.

In an interview with the Texan, one worker at 2400 Nueces anonymously attested that he and his fellow workers had not been given any health insurance or workers’ compensation. “We had no safety, no water, no breaks--nothing,” he said. “They just wanted to finish the job fast.” During construction, a different worker fell six stories, injuring himself and two others. All three received treatment at a hospital.

Workers have made other charges of ill-treatment at The Callaway House. Workers Defense Project, a non-profit representing Texas construction workers, has won more than $60,000 in unpaid wages from Harvey-Cleary, the site’s contractor.

These accusations are not unusual.

According to a report by faculty from UT and the University of Illinois at Chicago along with Workers Defense Project, 39 percent of surveyed Texas workers said they had been denied breaks. Fifty-nine percent said they had not been provided with water. 78 percent said they did not have health insurance. Sixty percent said they had received no safety training. 41 percent--as well as the 2400 Nueces worker who spoke to the Texan--claimed that they had previously been victims of a workplace fraud in which construction workers are misclassified as contractors. 

This misclassification often prevents them from receiving overtime pay, safety equipment or health insurance, since under this classification they are legally perceived as “self-employed” and therefore responsible for their own benefits and equipment. More than half of workers reported earning poverty-level wages, and 22 percent claimed to have been denied pay entirely.

State government protections for workers are sorely lacking. However, the UT System itself employs a remarkably exhaustive vetting process when picking firms to build campus buildings.

Dave Dixon, the executive director of UT’s Office of Facilities Planning and Construction, told the Texan that the UT System requires prospective contractors for its projects to undergo a multi-step safety verification process. In consequence, the UT System typically scores higher than its peers in Occupational Safety and Health Administration safety metrics by 40-60 percent.

We would like to have that same standard of scrutiny applied to off-campus projects that are set up to serve students. 

UT could have some leverage to bear on some of those projects. The land for 2400 Nueces is owned by UT and leased to EdR, the student housing company that owns and manages the complex. It’s not a great leap to imagine that lease and others like it being contingent on safe and fair building practices. Indeed, one wonders why they aren’t already.

Moreover, when choosing housing, students should be aware that their comfortable apartment may be made affordable by the hard work and unrecorded abuses of construction workers. By choosing to live in a complex that has a history of abusing workers, students may be making it harder for builders that treat workers well to survive in the market. 

This Jan. 25, 2012 file photo shows the U.S. Supreme Court Building in Washington. The justices are unlikely to have the last word on America's tangled efforts to address health care woes. The problems of high medical costs, widespread waste, and tens of millions of people without insurance will require Congress and the president to keep looking for answers.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

The Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the individual insurance requirement at the heart of President Barack Obama's historic health care overhaul.

The decision means the huge overhaul, still only partly in effect, will proceed and pick up momentum over the next several years, affecting the way that countless Americans receive and pay for their personal medical care. The ruling also hands Obama a campaign-season victory in rejecting arguments that Congress went too far in requiring most Americans to have health insurance or pay a penalty.

Breaking with the court's other conservative justices, Chief Justice John Roberts announced the judgment that allows the law to go forward with its aim of covering more than 30 million uninsured Americans.

The justices rejected two of the administration's three arguments in support of the insurance requirement. But the court said the mandate can be construed as a tax. "Because the Constitution permits such a tax, it is not our role to forbid it, or to pass upon its wisdom or fairness," Roberts said.

The court found problems with the law's expansion of Medicaid, but even there said the expansion could proceed as long as the federal government does not threaten to withhold states' entire Medicaid allotment if they don't take part in the law's extension.

The court's four liberal justices, Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, joined Roberts in the outcome.

Justices Samuel Alito, Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas dissented.

"The act before us here exceeds federal power both in mandating the purchase of health insurance and in denying non-consenting states all Medicaid funding," the dissenters said in a joint statement.

Republican campaign strategists said presidential candidate Mitt Romney will use the court's ruling to continue campaigning against "Obamacare" and attacking the president's signature health care program as a tax increase.

"Obama might have his law, but the GOP has a cause," said veteran campaign adviser Terry Holt. "This promises to galvanize Republican support around a repeal of what could well be called the largest tax increase in American history."

Editor’s note: Many college students rely on their parents’ health insurance plan, but soon they may well be on their own and planning to care for their parents. What should students look out for in the long-anticipated U.S. Supreme Court Affordable Care Act (ACA) decision and its aftermath? UT faculty members give their opinions, which have been edited for clarity.

“It is difficult to predict what the Supreme Court will do. But one thing is certain: The Court’s decision could affect many young adults who are now covered under their parents’ policies if the mandate is struck down. Nationwide, and in Texas, this age segment of the population is most likely to be uninsured. Even so, the young population is generally healthy and, on average, coverage [for them] costs less than for the old. As a result, insurers may want to keep this section of the law.”
Jacqueline Angel, Professor of Public Affairs and Sociology
LBJ School of Public Affairs

“Many will be covered on their parents’ plan until [age] 26,even if the ACA is found unconstitutional, at least for a while, since insurance contracts often run through the first of the year. And, in many cases, employers and insurance companies will keep that benefit in place. UT, for instance, offered [the option] to its employees to keep children on their health insurance so long as [the children] were not married or eligible for employee coverage. In terms of caring for their parents in the future, the ACA will not be terribly relevant since the ACA does not change Medicare coverage for those over 65. It does have some reductions in cost for pharmaceuticals while in the donut hole [the commonly used name for a Medicare coverage gap] and also makes a number of preventive services free under Medicare. Also, if their parents intend to retire before 65 and do not have employer-based coverage, the ACA will make buying coverage cheaper and more transparent than presently.”
David Warner, Professor in Health and Social Policy
LBJ School of Public Affairs

“The future of the parental coverage (until the age of 26) provision of the ACA is very much up in the air. The Supreme Court could uphold the ACA’s individual mandate provision, and then there’s no problem for students. It could also write a narrow opinion scrapping the individual mandate but leaving the rest intact (legally). It could also write a broad opinion and strike the whole ACA down. That would be bad for students needing parental coverage.

However, (a) some insurance companies have said they will maintain the parental coverage provision in their policies, even if the ACA is struck down. And (b), some Republicans are interested in reenacting some of the ACA’s more popular provisions, like the parental coverage provision, if the ACA is struck down. Other Republicans, however, want to eliminate every bit of ACA’s DNA down to its last molecule.

Importantly, even if insurance companies voluntarily keep parental coverage and/or Congress reenacts it, and if the individual mandate is struck down, there is serious question as to whether parental coverage and other provisions of the ACA, such as barring the refusal of coverage due to preexisting conditions, would be economically sustainable.”
Robert Prentice, Professor of Business Law
McCombs School of Business

“Whether or not the individual mandate is upheld, young people will need to think about finding jobs that include health insurance or finding health insurance plans they can afford to pay for out of pocket. One accident or illness could easily cause them to owe as much as or more than they do in student loans. Most important: Young people can help in figuring out how to rein in health care costs and develop a system that provides Americans of all ages access to routine as well as catastrophic health care.”
Diana DiNitto, Professor in Alcohol Studies and Education
School of Social Work

“The requirement for insurers to allow parents to insure their children until 26 has been very popular. Although the Republicans do not support health care reform, they have stated that they would want to continue this provision. If the Supreme Court supports health care reform, students will be required to purchase insurance from their employer or from a state or federal health care exchange. In the past, many young adults have forgone health insurance. Under health care reform, this choice would lead to tax penalties. In terms of parents, health care reform does expand coverage for things not currently covered by Medicare (e.g. prescription drugs), which will decrease the financial burden on parents and/or their children. Health care reform is also purported to be a method for containing rising health care costs, so both parents and children will, one might hope, pay less out of pocket for their insurance over time than they will if the health care reform law is overturned.”
Kristie J. Loescher, Senior Lecturer
McCombs School of Business

The state of Texas makes us buy insurance and fines us if we drive without it. How is that so different from the federal government ordering us to buy health insurance? Republicans will argue that auto insurance is necessary to protect the public, but a similar argument can be made for health insurance. People who don’t have health insurance use emergency rooms at the expense of the public at large.

Eric Pianka
Integrative biology professor

WASHINGTON — It boiled down to a debate over broccoli. And bread. And burial plots. If government can tell people to buy health insurance, Supreme Court justices wanted to know, what else could it make them buy?

Throughout Tuesday’s hearing on the health care law, the justices and lawyers argued over perfect product to show the limits of the federal government’s power over interstate markets.

“Everybody has to buy food sooner or later, so you define the market as food, therefore, everybody is in the market; therefore, you can make people buy broccoli,” offered Justice Antonin Scalia, obviously resistant to expanding government’s reach.

“That’s quite different,” responded Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, arguing for the health insurance mandate. Unlike grocery shopping, medical care is a market “in which your participation is often unpredictable and often involuntary.” And the care of patients who don’t pay gets passed on to everyone else as higher taxes and insurance premiums.

Verrilli preferred his own examples: the law is like regulation of telephone rates or price supports for milk.

— How about mandatory burial insurance, ventured conservative Justice Samuel Alito. “Everybody is going to be buried or cremated at some point. What’s the difference?”

— Chief Justice John Roberts wanted to know if people could be forced to buy cellphones for 911 calls.

— Attorney Paul Clement, representing 26 states challenging the law, tried wheat. When Congress wants to help farmers, he said, it doesn’t “just make everybody in America buy 10 loaves of bread.”

But Roberts, seeming to tire of the parade of products, cut him off by saying that doesn’t address the government’s argument — that everybody needs health care “and all they’re regulating is how you pay for it.”

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Monday promised an extraordinarily thorough springtime review of President Barack Obama’s historic health care overhaul — more than five hours of argument, unprecedented in modern times — in time for a likely ruling affecting millions of Americans just before the presidential election.

That ruling, expected before next summer’s Independence Day holiday, could determine the fate of Obama’s signature domestic achievement, the most far reaching domestic legislation in a generation but a political lightning rod as well. It is vigorously opposed by all of Obama’s GOP opponents.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act aims to provide health insurance to more than 30 million previously uninsured Americans. But Republicans have branded the law unconstitutional since before Obama signed it in a ceremony in March 2010.

The court’s ruling could be its most significant and political decision since George W. Bush’s 2000 presidential election victory. But the justices left themselves an opening to defer the outcome if they choose, by requesting arguments on one lower court’s ruling that a decision must wait until 2015, when one of the law’s many provisions takes effect.

Legal experts have offered a range of opinions about what the high court might do. Many prominent Supreme Court lawyers believe the law will be upheld by a lopsided vote, with Republican and Democratic appointees ruling in its favor. But others predict a close outcome, with Justice Anthony Kennedy, a Republican appointee who sometimes joins his four colleagues appointed by Democratic presidents, holding the deciding vote on the nine-member court.

The White House has pushed for a final ruling as soon as possible, and Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer said the administration was pleased the justices agreed to take the case now, with arguments in March. “It’s important that we put to rest once and for all the issue of maybe the law will disappear,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

Republicans also said they were happy the high court would hear arguments on the constitutionality of the provision at the heart of the law and three other questions about the act. The central provision in question is the requirement that individuals buy health insurance starting in 2014 or pay a penalty.

“That the Supreme Court is taking this up, I think, is a positive signal that there are legitimate concerns surrounding the constitutional aspects of mandating that individuals purchase health care insurance and purchase it according to Washington’s guidelines,” said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia.

The health care overhaul would achieve its huge expansion of coverage by requiring individuals to buy health insurance starting in 2014, by expanding Medicaid and by applying other provisions, many yet to take effect.

The question before the court is whether the government has the power to force people to buy health insurance. The White House says Congress used a “quintessential” power — its constitutional ability to regulate interstate commerce, including the health care industry — when it passed the overhaul.

But opponents of the law, and the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, say that Congress overstepped its authority when lawmakers passed individual mandate. A divided Atlanta court panel ruled that Congress cannot require people to “enter into contracts with private insurance companies for the purchase of an expensive product from the time they are born until the time they die.”

Printed on Tuesday, November 15, 2011 as: Health car law to appear in top Court


A year ago this week, President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act. The law enacts significant health insurance reforms that will take effect over the next several years. But one very important piece of that law is already in place. And it may directly benefit you.

The Affordable Care Act ensures that college students and young adults can stay on their parents’ employer-provided health care plans until age 26. Before, many health plans and issuers dropped young adults from their parents’ policies because of their age. That left countless college students, recent college graduates and other young people with little recourse, and worse: no health insurance. Historically, some 30 percent of young adults have been uninsured, a rate far higher than that of any other age group.

But young people don’t need health insurance, right? The statistics say otherwise: one-in-six young adults today is faced with a chronic illness such as cancer, diabetes or asthma. And nearly half of uninsured young adults report problems paying medical bills.
The new law ensures you have an option when it comes to your health care. This is important as you continue through school and as you transition into the job market, since you may find that health care coverage is not immediately available through your employer. Or you may work part time. You may choose to continue your education and go to graduate school, or take time off to travel and pursue volunteer opportunities.

It allows you to remain on your parents’ plan or rejoin it until age 26, even if you no longer live with your parents, are not a dependent on their tax return or are no longer a student. The new flexibility even applies if you are married. You are guaranteed the same benefits and at the same price that is available to other dependents.

More health care improvements are on the way — and many may also directly benefit you. Already, coverage cannot be denied for those under age 19 because of a pre-existing condition. By 2014, denying coverage to anyone based on a pre-existing condition will be banned. Annual dollar caps on care, which are already limited, will be prohibited, and state-based health insurance exchanges will create a new marketplace, giving more employers and millions of Americans the ability to purchase affordable coverage.

The Affordable Care Act is based on the simple belief that every American — and that includes college students — deserves access to high-quality, affordable health care. One year after it has become law, that belief is becoming reality.

<em>Solis is the United States Secretary of Labor.<em> 

The University can offer its health plan to graduate and postdoctoral research fellows if lawmakers approve a bill currently in the Texas Senate Committee on State Affairs.

The Texas Insurance Code stipulates who qualifies to participate in the University’s employee health insurance program. Graduate students who do research funded by outside fellowships and are not employed directly by the University do not qualify under the code. Proposed legislation would change the code to make research fellows eligible.

Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, who chairs the Senate Higher Education Committee, authored the bill. Zaffirini said the legislation will benefit the students directly affected in the bill and also universities themselves by enabling them to attract the best students.

“If a student has offers from three universities offering health benefits and UT isn’t, they probably aren’t going to go to UT,” Zaffirini said.

Astronomy graduate student Chris Lindner received a National Science Foundation fellowship in 2009 that he said allowed him to quit working as a teaching assistant and focus on his research. This year, to continue to afford his health insurance, Lindner said he has had to return to his position as a full-time teaching assistant so he can continue to qualify for the University’s employee health insurance.

He said the University requires graduate students to have health insurance, and for him, the standard student health insurance option does not have enough prescription drug coverage for his family’s needs.

“Now I’m TA-ing even though I have this big fellowship, which is supposed to keep me from having to TA, so I can focus on my research,” Lindner said. “If the people with the fellowships are the best in their fields, we should be doing all we can to make sure they are well taken care of, and we’re doing what we can for them.”

Not all research fellows are ineligible for health care through the University. Their eligibility depends on whether or not they are officially employed by the University.

Julien Carter, associate vice president for Human Resource Services, said depending on the terms of individual fellowships, the University should not experience any meaningful financial burden if the legislation passes.

“Provided the funding source of the fellowship will authorize charges for the fellow’s health insurance coverage, we believe there would be no significant fiscal impact to the University,” Carter said.

He said the University welcomes the opportunity to extend health coverage to these fellows it previously could not. Some qualified researchers would turn down fellowship offers because taking them would mean they could not participate in the University’s health insurance, he said.

“We have wanted this for a few years now because we realized [students] end up turning down these sometimes prestigious fellowships for other options,” Carter said.