By Gladys Nunez
For students who lack health insurance and are still exploring their options, the search can be a daunting task. First, the facts:
The deadline to sign up for The Affordable Care Act is March 31. Federal law requires everyone in the U.S. to have health insurance.
So where do students start?
This university provides publicly available resources, including a guide for those who have the university’s health insurance and want to see what the plan offers before they sign up. This resource is designed to guide students through the The Texas A&M University System’s health insurance plan.
Several calls made internally at the university, including the office of student life and wellness, referred this newsroom back to the guide as the most reliable source of information, though there is a full-time staff member who is available to students.
Jolene Des Roches, director of counseling and wellness, oversees the system’s student health care plan and confirmed she is available to answer students’ questions.
“I would help them navigate the online information,” Des Roches said.
Communications junior James Ratcliff said he wasn’t aware of resources through the university concerning the Affordable Care Act.
“I’d like to see more publicity about what resources are there,” Ratcliff said, adding that it would be helpful for low income students who are on financial aid.
The A&M System oversees all member institutions who provide services to students.
Eligibility for A&M-San Antonio’s health insurance plan is limited to students who are enrolled in at least six credit hours. According to the guide, an international student is required to maintain health insurance while enrolled and attending a university within the Texas A&M System, unless the student meets the waiver requirements of the A&M System.
The cost of the insurance plan for a student is $1,277 annually. The cost increases if a student wants to add a spouse, child or both. There is a $300 deductible and the out-of-pocket maximum is $5,000 for the policy year. The allowable amount for in-network providers is 80 percent and 60 percent for out-of-network providers. Preventive services are 100 percent covered .
The A&M System’s plan is provided by Academic HealthPlans, which offers a plan for domestic and international students that is considered sick and injury protection. Students can purchase the plan for the year or per semester. The plan offers Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas as the Preferred Provider Organization.
Students who acquire health insurance through the university will not need to register with the healthcare.gov website, which is the universal portal for all national health care information.
Amanda Hanes, customer care representative for Academic HealthPlans, said she has seen an increase in students enrolling in the plan because of the ACA. Hanes has advice for students who are looking to enroll in a health care plan.
“I think it’s very important for students to take time to look at their options so they can save money in the long run,” Hanes said. “Know their in-network providers and hospitals because it makes a big difference; what their plan and deductible is and what is covered under their insurance.”
In addition to services provided by the university, resources are available in the city’s South Side.
BiblioTech, Bexar County’s Digital Library, offers assistance with health care registration noon-8 p.m. every Wednesday and Friday, provided by Bexar County’s Department of Community Resources. This service is available until the March deadline.
Will Velazquez, project coordinator for Bexar County, said he has seen a big turnout at the health care enrollment events and anticipates the number of people to increase as the deadline approaches.
“It’s already [increasing] now,” Velazquez said. “People also wait until the last minute. [It’ll be] busy mid-February to the end of the deadline.”
According to Velazquez, those needing assistance with enrollment should bring their Social Security information or legal documents, W-2 statements, prior tax statements and existing health policies.
Velazquez said there are two things he would like students to know to help them with the ACA:
“[The] biggest thing is that some universities might require insurance already and students should come in and at least find out if it’s cheaper than the university’s [plan],” Velazquez said. “Also, know about the tax penalty if they are not enrolled by the deadline.”
The tax penalty for those who don’t have health insurance after the deadline is $95 for an adult.
Students who enroll through the healthcare.gov website will find a section that reviews plan details. Students will be prompted to answers questions specific to their situation.
For students like Ratcliff, having access to resources during their college years, he says, is important.
Ratcliff, who enrolled in Medicaid, said he can only pay for school with pell grants and scholarships. Ratcliff, who is Autistic, applied through the state to be covered under the Affordable Care Act.
“Hopefully, because I’m coming from a low income family, my premium will practically be either nonexistent or very minimal,” he said.