Low-income Community College Students Still Without Health Insurance

Added on 20 Feb 2010: I’ve reworded the title of this post to reflect that (in New Jersey) this issue is principally a concern of community college students. Rutgers, New Jersey’s state college, offers two very low-cost options for students: for under $200 they can use clinics on site at the school and for about $500 enroll in a traditional HMO is offered. But the insurance offered by Bergen Community College covers students only in case of hospitalization for a catastrophic incident – which yes, is as serious and rare as it sounds. I supposed other state community colleges have similar policies.

The Obama health care changes ensure that adult students continue to be insured on their parents’ health insurance policies until age 26. This is great for students with parents who have private health insurance through their jobs or can afford to buy a private policy if they don’t. But, what about low-income students covered by Medicaid or a state family care program? In New Jersey, students lose their health insurance entirely at exactly age 21 when they are dropped from the New Jersey Family Care program. There seem to be no satisfactory alternatives out there to provide them with affordable, quality health care after that. I wonder if health care limbo plays out for students in other states too.

Two low-income clinics in Bergen County hold little promise for providing students with quality medical care, even though they charge fees on a sliding scale, according to income. Bergen Valley Medical Initiative is a clinic where physicians generously volunteer their time for the benefit of the community, but they will not take any adult who earns less than $10,800 a year. Across the street is the North Hudson Community Action Clinic, which serves low-income residents in nine north Jersey locations – but it took about 20 calls over a two day period, plus almost an hour combined hold time, to finally get a series of three staff members on the phone, none of whom could answer all of my simple questions.

I eventually learned that new patients need to wait 1.5 weeks for their first appointment and when current patients have an urgent need to see a physician, walk-in appointments are available at 8:30am in all locations. However, patients at all times should expect to wait up to two hours to see a doctor. I was left with unsettling questions about how good the medical care can be at a place that provides such dim service at the administrative level. Low-cost medication programs are not available through North Hudson’s service and their clinics provide only general medical care. Additionally, patients needing to see specialists will receive referrals, but then they will need to pay the specialists’ full fees or access a hospital clinic for reduced charges, but they may wait a long time for an appointment to be scheduled.

This is a problem the White House administration may want to direct its attention too, since clearly, college students who can’t receive proper medical care when they become ill are not likely to complete their educations – and college graduation is an initiative President Obama firmly supports. Obama understands that our country’s ability to compete successfully in the global trade exchange depends on the United States college/university system producing students finely educated in the hard sciences and maths-based subjects that an increasingly technology-centric workplace environment requires.

The assistant of dermatologist Dr. James Katz of Elmwood Park told me, “Students can apply for Medicaid directly with the county,” but according to a Bergen County Board of Social Services representative I asked about this a while ago, full-time adult students aren’t eligible for any kind of aid. Another person knowledgeable about government processes recommended applying anyway.

“(The person) should apply for General Assistance. S/he has the right to apply, and (the County) can either approve him or deny him; they will make the eligibility determination. They may ask for proof of attending college full time. The program has a work requirement component, so the question is: does school attendance fulfill that requirement? If a person has to do a certain amount of hours to receive General Assistance benefits – which they do – attend job readiness classes and other activities for which attendance is recorded and mandatory: will those activities equal out to the student taking a 12 credit load of classes at school? Well, the student can apply and (the County social services office) will make a determination; that’s how the process works.”

In summary, there are health care services for students after they age out of family-based Medicaid coverage, but they’re not ideal. The best option would be for the President to champion sending some heavy duty health care love to all the economically challenged college and university students out there focused on completing their educations. The fact that students like these rise to the challenge of overcoming all of the inherent difficulties of poverty to stay in school and try to graduate, demonstrates their dedication, perseverance and the type of work ethic they’ll exhibit once employed. They really need the support and peace of mind health care services can give them, Prez, and, I would say they even deserve to have it.

2011 Year in Review: Eight Ways the Health Care Law Helps You
Resumen del año 2011: ocho maneras en que la Ley de cuidados de salud puede ayudarlo

I’m going to continue posting links to student healthcare resources:

How to Get Affordable Health Care in New Jersey
An extensive guide to healthcare options for people at all levels of society from students through individuals and small business groups.

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