Mandatory Campus Health Plans are Robbing Students

By Emmanuel Sessegnon

Imagine this: it’s late at night and you’re walking back home from a bar. Not having the best judgement at the moment, you decide to take a shortcut down a dark alley. 

Suddenly, a man with a mask and a gun approaches you and politely asks for your wallet. But something strange happens. After you give it to him, he immediately gives you a bottle of water, telling you that he only did this because you are intoxicated and knew that water would be good for you. He only took your money to reimburse himself for the water he gave you. After all, every study shows that you need water to be refreshed in the morning, and tomorrow is Monday!

Did this man do you a favor? Of course not, he stole from you. Unfortunately, many universities are beginning to do the same thing.

Since the individual mandate was de facto abolished by the Trump Tax Cuts, universities have decided to take matters into their own hands. Schools are now requiring that all students on campus must have health insurance. Their reasoning is that doing so will expand coverage for low-income students.

Like the robber, these schools claim to have good intentions. Also like the robber, they have completely foregone voluntary exchange. Instead, they intend to promote their brand of ‘charity’ by forcing the recipient to pay for it.

One of the most common ways of doing this is by instituting a “hard waiver.” This means that unless a student provides evidence of health insurance by a certain deadline, which is often months before the school year even begins, they will be charged for the school’s health plan. Even if you can prove you have insurance, the process must be redone each year. No doubt thousands of families, in the hustle and bustle of preparing for college, have forgotten this and ended up with a tuition bill thousands of dollars more than they expected.

But it’s not enough to just have insurance, it has to be the right insurance. In an extreme example, Vanderbilt rejects any insurance with an annual deductible over $250 and any cap on maximum benefits. Naturally, in order to protect you from paying more than $250 a year, they will charge you thousands per year. 

Schools will often take it a step further and state that students can only get a waiver if they can prove that their health insurance is “on par” with the plan provided by the school. And who exactly determines this? The university, of course. You can imagine which side has the advantage.

To be fair, the pricing is not outrageous. According to the American College Health Association, most student health plans are only between $1,500 and $2,000. In fact, one of the major selling points of switching to a mandatory system is that it was shown to help lower prices. At my college, George Washington University, the switch resulted in health care costs being reduced from $4,000 to $2,750 annually. This decrease in cost, according to progressive administrators, benefits low-income students and increases coverage. 

But this reasoning is economically empty. Remember, these health plans are not being provided for free; the students are simply being forced to buy them now. For low-income students for whom $4,000 is too expensive, $2,750 is still a hefty sum. One important fact to remember is that the school will not be assisting low-income students in paying this fee. Replacing a voluntary payment with a slightly smaller, mandatory payment is in no way “promoting affordability.” It simply slaps an additional charge on students who are already struggling to afford to go to college. 

If I am a perfectly healthy student who doesn’t see the need to buy insurance and am now forced to pay for it, my costs don’t decrease from $4,000 to $2,750. I wasn’t paying any health care costs to my university in the first place. My costs actually increase from $0 to $2,750. So for me, the school as a whole has actually become less affordable. Worse yet, since I am healthy, I won’t even need to use the services. This means that not only am I paying more money to the University, but I’m not benefitting in any way from doing so.

Unfortunately, this is just a symptom of a much broader disease: the infantilization of the American college student. Progressive universities have stopped treating college students like adults and started treating them like children. Children who must be protected from anything that could hurt them. Whether it’s speakers with ‘dangerous’ ideas, supposedly offensive Halloween costumes, or the results of an election, students like me are being treated as if we are unable to handle even the simplest of difficulties.

With tuition skyrocketing, schools need to find ways to cut costs for students. Instead, administrators have chosen to raise costs with programs like mandatory health insurance, promote their political views, and dictate every aspect of their students’ lives.

But don’t worry, they know what’s best for you.

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Emmanuel Sessegnon

Emmanuel Sessegnon is an intern at the American Institute for Economic Research, a writer for The Libertarian Republic, and Young Americans for Liberty's DC State Chair. He is currently studying Political Science at George Washington University.