March 29, 2010

Obama-care? More Like Cornell-care

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In the days following the passage of health care reform, a few of my friends asked me how the bill would affect them. Many were wondering: What does this mean for the average college student? Well, if you go to Cornell, not much.

All of us are, in some capacity, familiar with Cornell’s SHIP, or Student Health Insurance Plan. Either we’re enrolled in it, or we freaked out when we saw a $1500 balance on our bursar because we forgot to send in the waiver. Just to recap, though: Cornell’s SHIP mandates that all students have quality health insurance. A student can be covered by his or her own insurance, provided the company is licensed to practice in the U.S, offers coverage in Ithaca, covers mental health care, has a maximum benefit of at least $500,000 per year, lasts throughout one’s tenure as a student and covers pre-existing conditions. Faulting that, students buy into a policy sponsored by Cornell through Aetna.

The program is, quite simply, a mandate. Have health insurance? Good. Don’t have it? Buy ours. Can’t afford it? Apply for financial aid.

To those, then, who espouse apocalyptic visions of a world post-health care reform, I suggest you look no further than Cornell to dispel your fears. To those who argue that mandates to purchase health insurance are the product of a government strong-arming its will onto the people, look to us: We’re not oppressed, we’re healthy.

Cornell’s system isn’t perfectly analogous to what’s been passed by the federal government, but there are some notable parallels. The bill mandates that by 2014, all individuals have health insurance. It provides exchanges through which small businesses and low-income individuals and families can increase their bargaining power and get lower cost health coverage. Perhaps most importantly, it provides certain tax incentives and subsidies for eligible low-income individuals and families to purchase insurance on the exchanges.

In truth, the health care bill is something of a national effort to create what we as Cornell students (like students at many other universities) already have: Health insurance for those who can afford it, and help for those who can’t.

There have also been fears about what the health care bill would do for those who already have coverage. In reality, the nature of one’s health insurance won’t change tremendously; however, no longer will insurance companies be able to rob people of much needed coverage when they are most vulnerable. Insurance companies won’t be able to deny coverage because of pre-existing conditions. They won’t be able to drop your coverage once you get sick. For those with rather expensive or recurring illnesses, the bill removes the cap on lifetime benefits, which would otherwise leave people with chronic or terminal illnesses high and dry. Lastly, here’s an excellent tidbit for us college students: We’ll be able to remain on our parent’s coverage until age 26.

Much of the fear regarding the passage of health care reform has been the product of an unfortunate and unwarranted misconstruction of the legislation: That the whole effort is some sort of government takeover of health care. All of the major components of the bill are efforts to reform private insurance markets; it relies heavily on empowering the consumer –– through increased access and protections –– to coax insurance companies into lowering costs. This doesn’t happen through price controls or massive government intervention; it happens through the marketplace.

Just as Cornell doesn’t tell us what type of coverage to have, what doctors to see, when we can or cannot have care or what to do with Grandma, this bill doesn’t place any barrier between you and your medical care. What it does do is give 32 million people proper medical care where before they had none.

I imagine that once the dust settles from this long, arduous and often outright-ridiculous debate, people will be able to see clearly what this legislation is: A well thought out market-driven solution to the persistent lack of health care coverage among millions of Americans, coupled with the persistent growth of health care costs. Time will make obvious the absurdity of Revelations-like visions of government tyranny and socialism. Meanwhile, we Cornell students should rest assured, knowing that our future won’t be much different from our present: Not only will we continue to have coverage, but it will be consistent, complete and most likely less expensive.

David Murdter is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He may be reached at dmurdter@cornellsun.com. Murphy’s Lawyer appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.

Original Author: David Murdter