Secondary options for college students without health care

Jayne Bittner and Jayne Bittner

The national health care debate issue has surfaced at City College, where a number of uninsured and under-insured students cannot find or afford adequate health coverage, forcing them to pay out-of-pocket for medical costs.

Susan Broderick, director of the Health and Wellness program, said that according to a City College survey from Fall 2008, “66 percent of students had insurance through their parents.”

But Broderick said that because of the current economic conditions, this number would actually be fewer.

“A lot of people are losing their jobs, thus losing their insurance,” Broderick said.

Remaining covered through a parent’s insurance isn’t simple. Among age limits, many insurance companies also require students to take a minimum of 12 units in college to remain covered on their parent’s health care plan.

Julian Vai, a 20-year-old student at City College, said he had to pay out-of-pocket costs for doctor visits and knee braces for a dislocated patella, because he was over the age of 18 and was not enrolled in any college courses.

“I paid for it in cash, about $3,000 to $4,000. No surgery, just treatment,” Vai said. “Then I had to go back and fight the insurance companies later.”

According to Broderick, Vai’s requirement to pay out-of-pocket is not unusual.”That happens on a regular basis,” Broderick said.

Broderick also said that part of the problem involves a lack of “options for health care” for students in Santa Barbara, unlike Los Angeles, which has more programs supported by the state.

“Here… it’s really difficult to qualify,” Broderick said. “Where elsewhere they have more programs that make it easier for people to get supported health care.”

But according to Broderick, some services in the community provide discounts and low-cost services for students who are uninsured and under-insured.

Cottage Hospital gives a 50 percent discount through its emergency room to uninsured City College students.

Some doctors in the community will give student discounts, and the Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics provide health services on “a sliding scale,” meaning based on income.

“Most of our students qualify for that low income,” Broderick said.

Broderick also said the City College Health Center also does what it can to provide health services, starting with the required $17 fee paid upon registration, which “covers all the services that we offer here,” she said.

Preventative methods are encouraged as well, such as education about when to stay home to avoid getting sick during the flu season.

“To see a doctor, to see a nurse, to see a counselor is all free,” Broderick said. “If a student needs a lab test we charge our cost. We don’t mark it up for any kind of profit.”

The Health Center also provides a “secondary accident insurance policy” that covers students who get injured in class or during a class activity.

What students can do is take advantage of the acute care services, or short-term medical treatment, that City College’s Health Center provides, Broderick said.

“We really look out for the public health interests of the campus,” she said.