Trent Hagan: Health care reform has a place at GW

As a volunteer in a hospital emergency room it was often my job to review hospital bills with patients, including those for people who were uninsured.

In other words, I was forced to explain why an MRI and a Band-Aid cost upward of $2,000.

These days, I can’t seem to remember the names and faces of those patients. But as hard as I try, the heartbreak is something that I just can’t forget.

But it appears there’s a good chance this will continue. Over the course of the last two weeks, it has become increasingly apparent that the individual mandate for the health care overhaul is unlikely to survive the high court’s judicial review in its present form.

The concept of universal health care can be applied to a smaller community with fewer legal restrictions, and I have no doubt that it would best serve the interests of those involved.

If the United States isn’t ready for universal health care, I figure GW is a good place to start.

Private universities, unlike the federal government, are not strictly bound by the U.S. Constitution. Accordingly, administrators enjoy considerable latitude when it comes to imposing regulations upon enrolled students.

Last fall, Michigan State University implemented a policy that required all incoming students to purchase health insurance. Under the new mandate, undergraduates without existing coverage may either select an insurance plan of their own, or are automatically enrolled in the MSU-sponsored Aetna program.

Considering that GW offers a similar package through Aetna, this policy could be adopted by our own institution.

Like most college students, GW undergraduates are particularly susceptible to illness and injury. We live in moldy, dusty dorms – the ideal breeding grounds for viral strains such as the infamous Norovirus we saw in February.

Moreover, we all make our fair share of poor decisions. In fact, over the course of the last decade, the rate of hospitalizations among 18 to 24 year-olds rose by 25 percent for alcohol overdoses and 56 percent for drug overdoses, according to a National Institutes of Health study conducted from 1999 to 2008.

While the number of college-age hospital patients is on the rise, so is the cost of their medical bills.

Without health insurance, emergency room bills can range anywhere from several hundred to several thousand dollars. Not only is this enough to jeopardize a family’s finances, but it can also deter uninsured students from visiting the hospital at all. When experiencing legitimate health concerns, students shouldn’t have to fear treatment.

If students were required to purchase insurance before attending school, they would be protected against such unfortunate circumstances.

Needless to say, universal health care remains a contentious subject in the public eye.

MSU’s new policy has drawn the criticism of some Republican politicians who claim that the mandate places an unnecessary financial burden on already-struggling families. In February, state Rep. Kevin Cotter, R–Mt. Pleasant, called for MSU administrators to testify in front of the Michigan House Appropriations Subcommittee on Higher Education.

Michigan State University Provost Kim Wilcox responded that health care often saves money in the long run, adding that insured students are also more likely to thrive in the classroom.

“Protecting our students’ health helps to ensure their class attendance and, in turn, their academic success; and it helps to protect the significant financial and personal investment that they and their families have made in their education,” Wilcox testified.

Clearly, a little controversy isn’t enough to shake the convictions of MSU administrators. Why should we let it be enough to stop GW?

Although some may view it as an inconvenience, a University-wide health care mandate would protect students from the costs related with unforeseen illness and injury. More importantly, it would provide their friends and families with an even more valuable commodity – peace of mind.

No American should have to fear their next doctor’s bill. If we can’t get health care to work for America, let’s at least start with GW.

Trent Hagan, a freshman majoring in political science, is a Hatchet contributing opinions editor.

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