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Community Content: Collegian Healthcare Story Misses Mark

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In an article on the rising healthcare costs for students at Penn State, the Daily Collegian has missed the heart of the issue, although they did get at least one important fact right in that students need to have a bigger role in decision making at Penn State. I wholeheartedly endorse the comments from UPUA Vice President Emily McDonald. It is critical for graduate, undergraduate, and commonwealth students to be more involved in the decision-making process. Even more importantly, students need to be empowered to make real decisions throughout this process and not be seen merely as advisers.

The article conflates two separate issues: changes to student health insurance that affect thousands of graduate, professional and undergraduate students; and staff insurance offered to students who work more than 30 hours. For students who are on the former, premiums have increased by over 20 percent, not 8 percent.

Although the ACA has led to some cost increases, the real brunt comes from Aetna’s decision to push higher costs because of changes in “utilization.” Although many of us have concluded that these utilization fluctuations were an aberration, and that examining long term trends can provide a clearer picture, Aetna decided to focus solely on a single year of costs. This year it leveraged Penn State to accept higher costs and lower services for students.

Some of us students gathered, rallied, and made noise, but we were only an afterthought in the deal struck between Aetna and Penn State. However, we have not stopped, and plan on continuing our push into this year. We have learned a lot, mainly that Penn State is unwilling to push for students unless students first push Penn State. This is evident by the fact that we are still waiting, two months after the Student Health Insurance Task Force report was due, for any word from the Task Force.

To return to the ACA: One of its clear successes for students at Penn State is the creation of the exchanges. Students who currently receive unsubsidized health insurance through Aetna (unfunded graduate students, professional students, and undergraduate students) are likely better off leaving Aetna and going to the exchanges. With their low income, most of these students are able to receive subsidies through the exchanges that can bring down the cost of health insurance substantially.

Additionally, using the ideologically heavy name “Obamacare” suggest a bias in the coverage of this issue. I hope that in the future, the Daily Collegian will hold itself to the standard of the Associated Press. In their 2012 Election Style guide, the AP describes “Obamacare” as “Informal term for the Affordable Care Act. Often used derisively by Republicans” and that journalists should “avoid it unless quoting someone.”

Finally, I hope that in future articles the Daily Collegian makes an effort to clearly delineate within the complex problems that Penn State faces. Healthcare is a complicated issue and the article combines discussions about both student-employees who are on a staff plan and students who are on specific student-oriented plans (which the Task Force for example was charged with investigating).

Kevin Reuning is a second year Ph.D. candidate in Political Science at Penn State and a member of Healthcare Unites Graduate Students.

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