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Despite the uncertainty surrounding healthcare legislation in Congress, lobbyists and higher education institutions are coming together to make sure the bill will preserve the low-cost, high-quality insurance that is currently available to students.

Administrators are optimistic that the 9,363 students covered under the Penn Student Insurance Plan will continue to enjoy the standard of care they now receive without seeing a large increase in cost, regardless of the bill’s outcome.

Due to the young average age of those enrolled in PSIP, the cost of care for the group — and therefore the cost per person — is cheaper than many other insurance plans.

An early Senate draft of the healthcare reform legislation would have prevented colleges and universities from continuing to offer cheaper, group-rate plans.

Jake Baggott, the advocacy chair for the American College Health Association, said his organization successfully lobbied with other higher education advocates to protect student insurance plans. They convinced legislators to insert language into a draft of the bill that would insure the continued ability of colleges and universities to offer cheaper health insurance to their students.

He cited the bill’s original language as the reason it is important for higher education groups to closely monitor the bill. However, he said he doesn’t necessarily believe that the first draft of the bill intended to increase students’ rates, but was rather the unintended consequence of dealing with such complex legislation.

The University’s representative in Washington, Bill Andresen, said he is closely watching the legislation. But Andresen, who serves as the associate vice president of Penn’s Office of Federal Affairs, said there is little that anyone can do until a more permanent version of the bill is crafted.

“Even the leaders of the two Houses [of Congress] can’t agree,” Andresen said. “At this point it’s not clear at all what will ultimately be in the bill.”

The potential consequences of reform for Penn Med and the University of Pennsylvania Hospital System are too nebulous to predict — but that uncertainty hasn’t stopped the University from supporting efforts at legislation.

“Dr. Gutmann and Penn have been very clear to our representatives in Congress that she strongly supports passage of legislation,” Andresen said. “It’s in the interest of our students and the University, and the community in Philadelphia.”

The good news is that students enrolled in PSIP will likely see little change in their insurance plans.

Student Health Services Director Evelyn Wiener said that of the 9,363 students enrolled, approximately 7,000 are graduate students and 2,300 are undergraduates — the latter number has been “creeping up” over the past few years, Wiener said.

At the moment, many undergraduates are still covered under their parents’ insurance, so most students in PSIP are international students, undergraduates whose parents no longer have coverage or whose coverage does not meet Penn’s requirements.

Wiener said the number of students enrolled in PSIP may be rising because SHS is more rigorously auditing students’ outside insurance to make sure it meets Penn’s requirements.

“We’ve seen our student plan become increasingly rich in benefits and comparable to employer plans,” she said of the coverage. “Compared to the market, it is a very good value for the cost.”

Wiener predicted that enrollment in PSIP would only see a decline if employers make coverage available to part-time employees, which would apply to Penn students who hold part-time jobs.

She said Congress increasing the age until which children can be covered under their parents’ health insurance may also cause a decline in PSIP enrollment. Usually, the age limit is 23, unless the child stays in school for a certain number of years.

On the other hand, she said, healthcare reform might make employer plans less rich, making PSIP a more attractive option for students who are currently covered under their parents’ health care.

For now, the Student Health Insurance Advisory Committee — a group of Penn administrators and students that evaluate PSIP — is holding off on making any big changes to the insurance plan, said committee member Mike Baiocchi, a fourth-year Statistics doctoral student studying health care outcomes and systems.

Baiocchi and Baggott both said a continuing concern about the legislation is whether it will combine the lower risk level of college students with the higher risk of a more general population.

“Because we’re students, we’re young, and we cost less per person,” said Baiocchi. A larger risk pool would force students to assume some of the costs associated with older age, and could possibly increase the cost of insurance — though this possibility is still very uncertain.

Nonetheless the healthcare services available to students at Penn are unlikely to change, said Wiener and Associate Vice Provost for Health and Academic Support Services Max King, who oversees health services for students.

Though the bill might have a profound effect on the way Medicare is delivered to health centers, that would not affect SHS, which does not have Medicare patients, said King.

Overall, though, administrators stressed that only time will tell what actual changes the bill will bring.

Wiener said even if a bill is passed, it could still be two to three years before changes are implemented.

“It’s a Ping-Pong ball that keeps going back and forth and back and forth,” King said. “Where it’s going to end up, who knows.”

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