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Breathe Easy, College Students: New Healthcare Bill Allows Millions of Uninsured Students Onto Their Parents' Health Plans

I have been a student of higher education for six years.  Two of those years, I was uninsured.  It’s not an uncommon place to find oneself during “Real World Purgatory” – the time between an earned degree and a career.  Your entire life is in limbo.  For the majority of us, life after our parents’ insurance drops us (at either 19 or 23) is a precarious time.  For me, that time was grad school.  Cold?  Ride it out with some Gatorade. Flu?  Pray that it’s not actually meningitis.  Slice the tip of your finger off with an X-Acto knife during printmaking?  Drive yourself to urgent care where they offer discounted treatment.  Do not, under any circumstances, get in the back of an ambulance.  I don’t care how much you’re bleeding, that’s a $1,500 cab ride, my friend.  And for God’s sake, avoid the combination of inebriation and icy sidewalks.  Like so many uninsured college students, I ended up pushing my health aside, hoping my immune system would do what I pay it to do, hoping that the generic Z-Pack my campus’s health center was handing out like candy would work.  And hoping, of course, I didn’t fall down a flight of stairs.

But let’s talk mental health.  With the increasing demands on college students these days and the added stressors of so many things out of their control – economy, economy, economy – to talk about what plagues this population and not mention mental illness is a crime.  Almost half of the college students in this country reported being depressed or overwhelmingly anxious in 2008.  Two years later the numbers are rising.  College campuses are seeing a significant influx into their counseling centers, demanding more time of an already limited resource.  These counseling centers are centered around therapy and outreach programming for the campus.  Most are not equipped to handle serious mental illness or disorders, or provide medication.  Depression and anxiety, left to their own devices, can lead to an entire host of mental and wellness issues, including substance abuse and suicide.  None of this information is new.  College personnel have been staring down the nose of this issue for some time, stretching resources and hoping to provide some semblance of safety and support for college students who need it.

A couple weeks ago, the country finally cut young adults a break.  With the passing of the new health care bill comes relief to millions of uninsured young people: Those younger than 26 are now able to join their parents’ insurance plans.  According to the New York Times, young people 21 – 26 years old make up the largest group of uninsured Americans, even though – surprise, surprise – they are the healthiest and cheapest to insure.  With so many of those Americans in school, however, insurance still may not be accessible or affordable – eating and rent and tuition tend to be a bit of a drain on the ol’ wallet.

With this new health care bill, the 30+ million college students in this country can seek out the services they need that their campus cannot provide to them.  Insurance means access – both on the medical side, as well as the mental health side.  Increased diagnostic rates for illnesses like depression, adjustment disorder, anxiety, bipolar disorder, et al, combined with the well-known fact that most of these issues manifest during the traditional college age (18 – 25), seems to suggest that perhaps our government is not so far off with this new bill.  Granted, it is a complex and multi-layered bill, with many facets, but its bottom line was made clear last Thursday: Accessible health care. For those who don’t have it.  For those who need it.  For those who may not have been able to afford it otherwise.  Not just for students, but for everybody.


I will, however, admit freely that this one aspect of this bill will not solve all of our students’ mental health issues.  It barely solves the issues for the country’s population at large.  What if your parents’ insurance isn’t the best in the world?  What if your parents don’t have insurance, period? What if you’re still in school, but older than 26?  So many “what if’s”.  So many special cases.  But in a time like this, when our government is dragging its feet on the change it promised, mostly because our own elected officials seem to have forgotten why they are there in the first place – I’m lookin’ at you, Congress – it’s a positive step.  There are naysayers who don’t think so, naturally, but when our current college population graduates, healthy and well, and some of them go on to lead this nation and start making the decisions around here, you can get back to me and tell me why some people deserve access to health care and some don’t.

Kristen M.
NY Times:
National Center for Education Statistics:

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