Having witnessed my first ever tea party protest on the steps of the Capitol Sunday evening, and enjoyed a real-life Michele Bachmann sighting, I am mostly delighted that any form of healthcare passed.
College students will gain incredible new rights to healthcare and education after Sunday night’s vote on healthcare reform, and after Thursday’s signing of the budget reconciliation bill. The two biggest accomplishments are the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (SAFRA), as part of budget reconciliation, and the extension of parents’ or guardians’ insurance coverage until one turns 26.
1. Students Over Banks (SAFRA)
SAFRA is landmark legislation. It will increase the Federal Pell Grant, offered to students from low-income families, from $5,350 to $5,530 from 2010 to 2011, and by 2017, to $5,975. It pledges $750 million to boost recruitment and retention of (underrepresented) students, and supports Historically Black Colleges. The denial of education to millions, via recent nationwide tuition increases at both public and private institutions, makes federal investment in students critical.
SAFRA also follows through on President Obama’s pledge to eliminate the most predatory and 2nd-most-popular education loan program in the nation: Federal Family Education Loans, established in 1966. Essentially, the government pays private institutions (read: banks who have been recently bailed out) to lend to students. When students default, the government must cover it, and loses money. The better loan program, which President Obama (and students) favor, are Direct Loans, created in 1993 under Clinton. Direct loans require no costly private middleperson.
SAFRA passed in the House in September in a vote of 253-171, but for fear of a Republican filibuster, was put into the budget reconciliation bill, which qualified it for a simple majority vote in the Senate. It has now passed both.
2. Healthcare Reform
-I can be insured under my parents’ plan until I turn 26.
If I don’t have a job that offers healthcare benefits when I graduate from Berkeley, I can remain on my parents’ plan. The ages of 19-22 are the most common for mandated cessation of coverage under parent plans. This directly impacts me: my plan was scheduled to cease on my 22nd birthday, but I will likely need eye surgery when I am 25. In an age where unpaid internships drive down pay and benefits for what should be considered entry-level positions, and are considered a requirement for jobs in many fields, the ability of a student to have health insurance until her first paying job is significant.
-Many institutions of higher education already require that students have health insurance.
The new bill requires Americans to have health insurance, which can be scary for those who cannot immediately afford it. Yet, the University of North Carolina system just implemented a plan to require health coverage for its students, and the University of California already has such a system in place. Thousands of other colleges have similar programs. If students do not have private plans, their school likely offers some type of “SHIP,” or Student Health Insurance Plan. The largest group of uninsured nationwide are 19-29-year-olds. Nearly 1/3 of all uninsured Americans are between 18 and 24. This is roughly 13 million young Americans. As more higher education institutions require coverage, students will be less affected by the new requirement of the bill.
Still, it will affect some- will plans to drive down private healthcare costs benefit undocumented students? It is possible that as national healthcare becomes (ideally) less costly, student health insurance will not follow suit. This limits options for undocumented students who are required to purchase either private or university-sponsored plans. Additionally, some college students fake their proof of health insurance coverage to waive out of the university’s student health insurance, to save $700-1000 per year on registration fees, which often include student health insurance fees. Faking insurance coverage will be more difficult.
-The bill creates demand for more doctors, and thus, more med students.
More students will need to pour into medical school, which is a costly process. Luckily, they have SAFRA to make it more affordable!
OK, this might be a stretch. But the important message from Sunday’s vote and Thursday’s signing is that the Federal Government just made it easier for high school students to get to college, stay there, graduate, stay healthy, and find a more permanent paying job. I’m certainly breathing easier.