Healthcare Law Expands Coverage, Funding for Students

The Affordable Care Act increases grants and loans for some fields and revamps student insurance plans.

The Supreme Court ruling on healthcare means college students will see expanded insurance and funding options.
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The Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act last month, giving President Obama's signature legislative accomplishment a legal seal of approval.

But what does the healthcare law mean for college students?

It means that "they have multiple paths to getting good insurance now that they didn't have before," says Tobin Van Ostern, a policy manager for Campus Progress, a progressive advocacy group.

Among those paths: enhanced student health plans, expanded Medicaid eligibility, and the chance to stay on their parent's insurance if they are under 26 years old.

"If you're college aged, but not in college, there's a higher likelihood that you are going to be fitting into that 133 percent federal poverty level, and you would be eligible for Medicaid for the first time," Van Ostern notes. Starting January 2014, most individuals making less than $15,000 per year will qualify for the need-based healthcare program.

College graduates entering low-salaried jobs are also among those most likely to qualify for federal subsidies to offset insurance premiums, he added. The subsidies will also take effect Jan. 1, 2014.

But the Affordable Care Act offers more than medical coverage for students. It also means additional funding and loan forgiveness options for those entering health fields.

[Read more about the Supreme Court ruling.]

Here's a rundown of the components of the newly upheld healthcare law that are geared toward students:

• Student health plans: More than 1 million students are currently enrolled in a student insurance plan offered by their college or university. The Affordable Care Act requires that these plans include prescription coverage, offer free preventative care, and bump maximum annual benefits up to at least $100,000, among other requirements.

"A school that has a very low lifetime or annual limit, yes, that doesn't impact many people," Van Ostern says. "But for the students who are on the plan and hit that maximum, that's sort of a life changing, life altering event that has huge consequences in their lives."

Some experts argue that increasing coverage limits and adding new requirements will drive up premiums for student plans, but concede they will remain less expensive than individual plans. One avenue schools may take to offset premiums is to mandate the coverage for all students, according to a 2011 report by the University Risk Management and Insurance Association.

Doing so would include the premium in the overall cost of attendance, allowing students to receive financial aid funds to cover the premium, the report suggests.

• Funding and forgiveness: The White House estimates the Affordable Care Act will add more than 30 million people to the ranks of the insured. Caring for them will require an influx of workers in all aspects of the health sector—particularly nurses and primary care physicians, which are already in short supply.

[Learn about the wide spectrum of healthcare jobs.]

To train the necessary workforce, the healthcare law ups need-based Pell grants by $40 billion annually, reduces repayment rates for federal loans borrowed after July 1, 2014, and adds incentives such as loan forgiveness for doctors and nurses who enter in-demand fields such as primary care and geriatrics, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

[Learn about more student loan forgiveness options.]

The law also adds additional incentives for nurses who pursue advanced training as nurse practitioners or teach at an accredited nursing program, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.

• Parental coverage: An estimated 3.1 million people have already taken advantage of the provision in the Affordable Care Act that allows young adults to stay on their parent's health insurance until age 26, according to a National Health Interview Survey. This provision affects people whether they are in college or not, so young students, workers, and those looking for work can maintain health coverage.

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