Commentary: College Students Should Be a Priority for Health Care

Health care. Who thought those two words would be such a hot button issue? Everybody needs it. Everybody wants it. Somebody’s got to pay for it. Why not all of us?

People across the country are battling over H.R. 3962, also known as the Affordable Health Care for America Act, recently passed by the House while the Senate grapples over its version. One of the public’s biggest gripes about the bill is “the public option,” a provision that provides health care for approximately 35 million uninsured people using taxpayers’ dollars. Under the plan, 96 percent of Americans would have health insurance.

Sounds good to me.

What made me want to rejoice about the passing of this bill was House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s announcement of the provision that would allow students to stay on their parents’ insurance plans until the age of 26, and in some cases 27.

Aetna Insurance Inc. reported that 10 percent of the uninsured American population is composed of college students. Nearly one in three uninsured people in America are between the ages of 19 and 24.

Since 19 to 24-year-olds in college are America’s so-called “future,” this group should be one of the first priorities to receive government-funded health care.

Sounds wonderful, especially to someone like me who’s about to graduate in May, which would be the traditional cutoff date for parental insurance coverage.

But then I looked a little closer once I found out that my Congressional representative, Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, voted “no” on the bill.

“Why did I vote for him?” I’m thinking.

On his Web site, Kucinich details exactly why he voted the way he did. He acknowledged what everyone, including President Barack Obama, has been saying all along – that insurance companies are the bad guys, running rampant with unregulated freedom.

“Clearly, the insurance companies are the problem, not the solution,” Kucinich said. “They are driving up the cost of health care.”

“In H.R. 3962, the government is requiring at least 21 million Americans to buy private health insurance from the very industry that causes costs to be so high, which will result in at least $70 billion in new annual revenue, much of which is coming from taxpayers,” Kucinich said. “This inevitably will lead to even more costs, more subsidies and higher profits for insurance companies – a bailout under a blue cross.”

While his statement clarified possible consequences of the bill in laymen’s terms, I was shocked that Kucinich, who represents a district that includes Case Western Reserve University and four other universities, did not mention anything about the provision to extend parental insurance for college students.

That alarmed me. Kucinich should realize that sections of this bill are pertinent for many of his constituents.

Students and faculty across the country are rallying hard, either for or against this bill.

“Personally, I think it’s tragic we haven’t had some kind of legislation on universal health care,” Samuel Levey, a professor of health management and policy at the University of Iowa, said in The Daily Iowan, the campus newspaper. “I think we do need it. The problem is how it’s constructed.”

Levey’s biggest gripe with the bill was the cost, which he said would “keep spiraling upward” under the current plan.

I tend to subscribe to the notion that “those who make more money pay more taxes.” It seems only fair, especially since we need that money to get us out of an economic hole. Higher taxes often mean better services, and who doesn’t need (and want) better health care?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the unemployment rate at 10.2 percent, which is the highest it’s been at in the last 25 years. In this economy, Americans who oppose the public option could one day lose their jobs, along with employment-sponsored coverage. Even worse, they could be unemployed, uninsured and unable to afford independently provided coverage.

In the end, many Americans hope to end up with change that provides a health-care plan that is comprehensive, affordable and easy to access. This is especially true for college students.

To adapt a line from a popular credit-card commercial: Tuition, $20,000 a year; books, $1,000 a year; room and board, $6,000 a year. Graduating with a degree, a job and affordable health insurance? That’s priceless.

Simone Pringle is a senior from Cleveland majoring in journalism at Howard University.