Does Obamacare make my student health plan offer better benefits?



Q. I have heard that under Obamacare, my university’s health care plan for students now has to offer better benefits than it did in the past – including the Affordable Care Act’s ten essential benefits with no annual or lifetime benefit limits. Is that true? Does that mean that the coverage is more expensive than it used to be?

A. Student health plans are required to meet most of the standards that apply under the ACA to plans sold to individuals and small groups.

Pre-ACA, many colleges offered very skimpy plans. They typically came with low premiums, but also with low annual and lifetime benefit maximums. They were fine as long as a student was healthy, but if he was in a car accident or diagnosed with cancer, the benefits could be quickly exhausted.

Now that colleges are offering plans with ACA-compliant benefits, annual premiums tend to be higher than they were in the past. And some colleges have simply opted not to offer coverage anymore, choosing instead to direct their students to the exchange (for Medicaid or a private plan, depending on the student’s financial circumstances) or to a parent’s plan, since young adults can remain on a parent’s plan until age 26. But in some cases, coverage offered by colleges is just as affordable as the plans available through the exchange, or even more so.

And although premiums are generally higher than they were prior to the ACA’s regulations, the fact that student plans now offer free preventive care offsets part of that cost. Preventive care includes all types of FDA-approved contraception for women, including long-acting reversible contraceptives like IUDs (which tended to have prohibitively high up-front costs before their coverage was mandated on all non-grandfathered health plans). But with regards to contraception coverage, it’s important to understand that the Trump Administration has finalized regulations that allow colleges and universities to avoid offering various types of contraceptive coverage if they have religious or moral objections to them. So students at religiously affiliated schools will need to pay close attention to their policy details in order to understand the specifics of the contraceptive coverage.

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