Photo: Jared Bailey

Opinion: Mandatory health insurance hurts students

If you've checked your student email account in the last few weeks – it’s summer break, so you probably didn’t – and happened to peek into your “Clutter” inbox, you were greeted by a little email from Student Health Services. When I first saw the email myself, I was puzzled, and the opening line seemed to echo my confusion. “What is happening?", it said in an unnecessarily bold font. 

Well, it’s not an ice cream social. Apparently, a new annual $2,047 charge is happening. All currently uninsured students will have to sign up and pay for USC’s new mandatory health insurance this fall. 

I don’t need to explain to fellow students why a surprise $2K shakedown is less than appreciated, but I guess somebody in the university administration didn’t get the memo: students are poor! They’re not equipped to casually pick up an insurance bill like it’s their date’s check at Olive Garden. For anybody who meticulously plans out their budget each year, this is a Defcon 1 level nightmare. 

For some, this will mean having to work overtime or get new jobs. For others, this means taking on more student loans and plunging further into debt. The fee reinforces to students the futility of trying to be fiscally responsible. 

Furthermore, it encourages uninsured students – who have thus far managed to survive without the university’s assistance – to become passive about their own health care. It’s the same relationship between students and mandatory meal plans. Why cook when you have to pay for the dining hall anyway? Why take the time to understand and manage your own health needs when you have to pay for the insurance safety net anyway?

But this mandatory health insurance plan doesn’t just pose a threat to student finances, it undermines the university’s own student health goals. 

Take mental health as an example. The university has on numerous occasions addressed issues of mental health on campus. In the residence halls, resident mentors encourage students to combat anxiety and depression by eating a balanced diet and maintaining a healthy sleep schedule; however, this becomes difficult when fees suck up your savings and you have to work into the wee hours just to afford your ramen dinner. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that financially kneecapping students would leave them stressed and sad.

I don’t expect much from the university – I don’t need a nanny or a butler – but I do expect it to mind its business when I make my own decisions. I know I can’t afford insurance, so, for the time-being, I’m choosing to be conservative and avoid debt by staying uninsured. The university shouldn’t interfere with that. 

Somebody in the university administration probably thought it was a friendly gesture to mandate this health plan for students, but is that really the kind of action a friend takes? It’s not a gift if they have to pay for it, it’s not a favor if they didn’t ask for it and it’s not a consensual agreement if they can’t say no. Is that any way to treat a friend?

I’m not saying that the university shouldn’t offer a health plan – some people need it. I’m saying that it shouldn’t be forced on everyone, especially on those who can’t afford it. Students can make it on their own and they should be allowed to.



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