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Affordable Care Act impacts student premiums

UNM officials, students weigh in on Supreme Court ruling that deems act constitutional

Students who purchase UNM health insurance will bear the cost of increased coverage requirements mandated by President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

On June 28, the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act, a policy passed in March that aims to provide more affordable health care to U.S. citizens. According to the act, health insurance companies can no longer discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions, will cover the costs of preventative care, such as birth control and mammograms, and will allow students to stay on their parents’ insurance policies until they are 26 years old.

At a June 7 meeting, the Board of Regents approved a 22 percent increase in health insurance premium costs and said the hike will ensure that UNM health insurance policies meet the requirements of the new act and pay for the increased coverage insurers must provide. With the approved increase, insurance premiums at UNM will increase by about $300, to about $1,700 annually.

GPSA President Marisa Silva said that despite the increased insurance costs, students will benefit from the act. She said the act will allow many students to stay on their parents’ insurance policies while they’re in school.

“Anyone with a medical condition suddenly is able to have coverage, and easing that burden might allow students access to an education,” she said. “I think that it’s going to be a positive thing for most students and it’s a boon to the entire public to not have to deal with insurance that can turn you away.”

New Mexico has the second-highest uninsured rate in the nation: roughly 21 percent of New Mexico’s 2.1 million residents are uninsured. The federal government picks up 70 percent of New Mexico’s tab for Medicaid, a government program that provides care to many of those uninsured residents.

The Supreme Court decision ruled the federal government could not penalize individual states for not accepting federal dollars to expand their Medicaid. The federal government would fund 100 percent of expansion costs until 2020, at which time each state would have to pay for 10 percent of the costs.

The percentage that states have to pay could continue to rise in the future. A spokesman for Gov. Susana Martinez said she has yet to decide whether to expand the state’s Medicaid program, but told the San Francisco Chronicle Martinez will “proceed in a manner that best protects the safety net for the most vulnerable New Mexicans in a responsible and sustainable manner.”

Highlights of the Supreme Court ruling and the Affordable Care Act:

The act aims to ensure health care costs stay low, promote preventative care and hold insurance companies accountable.

Beginning in 2014, people who do not purchase health insurance but are financially able to do so will be subject to a tax. The Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of this portion in the bill as part of last week’s ruling.

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The Supreme Court ruled the federal government cannot impose penalties on states that choose not to expand their Medicaid programs. As outlined in the act, the expansions for each state would be covered by federal dollars until 2020, at which point states would have to start paying 10 percent of expansion costs.

Gov. Susana Martinez has said she is unsure whether she is in favor of adopting an expansion program in New Mexico.

Young adults can stay on their parents’ health plans until they reach the age of 26, unless they’re already covered through their jobs and their parents’ health plans predate Sept. 23, 2010.

Beginning in 2014, insurance companies will no longer be able to deny patients coverage for having pre-existing conditions.

Insurance companies will provide coverage for free preventative health care, such as mammograms, wellness visits for seniors, vaccinations, colonoscopies and free birth control.

Insurance companies must apply 80 percent of premiums to medical care and quality costs or rebate the portion of premium costs that exceed the limit.

Medicare-covered benefits will no longer be reduced or eliminated, including the right to choose your doctor.

Insurance policies must meet minimum health coverage standards, which may drive the cost of insurance plans up. The UNM Board of Regents approved a 22 percent increase in student health insurance premium costs on June 7, and said the increase is in part due to the regulations outlined in the Affordable Care Act.

Insurance policies are no longer required to cover abortion costs.
By 2014, insurance companies will no longer be able to impose annual caps on coverage.

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