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Twenty percent of college students - a total of 1.7 million individuals - lack health insurance and racked up $120 to 235 million in uncompensated medical bills, according to a recent report released by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

Of those who are insured, there was a great disparity in the quality of their coverage, the report found. Some plans left students without coverage for preventative care, pre-existing conditions and limited prescription payments.

Penn is among the 57 percent of U.S. colleges that offers a student insurance plan and the 30 percent that require full-time students to have health insurance.

This complies with the American College Health Association's March 2008 guideline that "as a condition of enrollment, the college or university requires students to provide evidence that they have adequate health insurance coverage."

The GAO report also found that 31 percent of part-time students ages 18 to 23 were uninsured, compared to 18 percent of full-time students. Part-time students at Penn are not required to have insurance.

Penn maintains programs so students "have access to health care along with health insurance to cover the costs of care," said Evelyn Wiener, the director of Student Health Services.

Full-time students are required to provide proof of adequate insurance or be enrolled in the Penn Student Insurance Plan, which covers inpatient and outpatient care, mental-health treatment, prescriptions and specialty referrals among other services.

The PSIP is shaped in part by the Student Health Insurance Advisory Committee.

"Students definitely have the option of expressing their concerns about the benefits and what they want changed," said Sari Schneidman, a College junior representative on SHIAC.

Part-time students in a degree earning program are also eligible for PSIP.

Nationwide, two-thirds of insured students age 18 to 23 receive coverage from their parents' employer and only 7 percent use private insurance, including student-insurance plans.

At Penn, "most undergraduates, but not all, are covered by their parents' insurance plans," Wiener said. But, as students get older, they start to hit age restrictions on that insurance; therefore, a higher proportion of graduate students are covered by PSIP.

Wiener added that the use of PSIP by undergraduates may be on the rise.

"Parents' plans are more restrictive, have higher deductibles and more limited benefits," she said. Wiener also added that the economy affects the employer's ability to offer health insurance, as well as people's ability to pay for it.

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