ObamaCare Threatens College Health Plans

Kaiser Health News reports that those cheap, stripped down college health plans offered to students may be imperiled by Obamacare:

WASHINGTON -- Colleges and universities say that some rules in the new health law could keep them from offering low-cost, limited-benefit student insurance policies, and they're seeking federal authority to continue offering them.

Their request drew immediate fire from critics, however, who say that student health plans should be held to the same standards that other insurance is.

Among other things, the colleges want clarification that they won't have to offer the policies to non-students.

Without a number of changes, it may be impossible to continue to offer student health plans, says a letter that the American Council on Education sent Aug. 12 to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, signed by 12 other trade associations that represent colleges.

Additionally, the colleges say that some provisions of the law don't apply to their policies, including those that require insurers to spend at least 80 percent of their revenue on medical care and that bar them from setting annual coverage caps.

Many of the provisions at issue don't go into effect until 2014, but the colleges say they need clarity soon because they're negotiating long-term contracts with insurers now.

(H/T Jonathan Adler)

I imagine that the administration has been blindsided by this one.  I say that because this is a no-win situation, and I assume that if anyone had seen it coming, they would have written an exemption to cover it.

Now they're in an awkward position. Do they change the law to offer students less generous coverage?  That's not going to sound good.  Do they leave it, forcing universities to either end coverage entirely, or make it much more expensive?  Cue angry students demonstrating about the cost of their health care policies.  Had this been written into the law, it probably would have passed unnoticed, but the farther this presses into the spotlight, the harder it's going to be to arrive at a politically acceptable answer.

Chalking this one up to the cost of passing multi-thousand page bills that no one has read.

Update:  Kevin Drum has a rather angry response.  I'll reproduce what I wrote Kevin

All I said was, this is probably going to be politically sensitive, and they probably missed this.  I did not say that grad students were going to be dying in the streets or that this was going to be any sort of "disaster", nor did I say anyone was stupid.  I pointed out what I take to be the facts, which is that this is something Dems would probably have avoided if anyone had thought about it.

The fact is, there's a ton of stuff in this bill--like the 1099 boondoggle--that was clearly poorly thought out and not at all understood by the overwhelming majority of people who voted for it. What I wrote was a pretty mild version of that.  I was accused of being oversensitive after this thing passed, but it seems to me that Obamacare supporters have now become extraordinarily tender-skinned about even fairly anodyne criticisms.

I'm afraid that those of us who opposed this bill are going to keep pointing out the problems with it.  I think that this should make supporters of this bill angry only to the extent that they themselves stopped criticising Bush-era policies immediately after those were enacted.

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Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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