U.S. departments push awareness of health care changes

BY ARIANA WITT | APRIL 21, 2011 7:20 AM

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National health care and education officials are reaching out to college campuses as commencement nears to ensure graduates know they have a health- care safety net for a few more years.

Part of the national health care reform allows adult children to stay on their parents' health insurance through the end of the calendar year that they turn 26.

At the University of Iowa, officials and students leaders said they feel students are well informed about their health care options post-graduation.

"Most every one knows that this is now a requirement for their health plan," said Richard Saunders, the UI assistant vice president for Human Resources. "Of course, we've notified employees on campus if they have children and would be affected, and they know they can add back into the policy."

On Wednesday, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education Arne Duncan took part in a national conference call about student insurance options for the Affordable Care Act.

Sebelius said officials sent letters to university presidents and student government leaders to spread the word about the law. They outlined possible approaches a campus might take to inform students, including using social media and campus forums.

"Young adults shouldn't have to lose their health insurance on graduation day," Sebelius said. "To win the future, we need to give our students what they need to succeed."

Duncan agreed this was the reason they wanted to reach out to outgoing seniors.

"We're going to try make sure every graduating student knows the option is available to them," Duncan said.

John Rigby, the outgoing president of the UI Student Government, said he's unaware of any federal efforts to inform students at the UI about the plan, but feels students should know as much as possible.

"It is important that students who are graduating and looking for a job and might not be able to receive health care from a job, know that this plan is out there," Rigby said.

Iowa has had a similar plan in place for three years, said Sen. Jack Hatch, D-Des Moines, chair of the Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee. He said the plan in Iowa, which allows single graduates to remain on their parents insurance until 25, might make it easier to implement the federal plan.

"I can tell you that their parents are thinking about it," Hatch said of the students. "If we can get students to bring it up to their parents, I think you'll find more students are covered."

Using social media, Hatch said, might act as a more creative way to reach youth.

UI senior Rhett Kolbe, who is on his parents' health insurance, said he definitely will do more to know his options.

"I don't know what I'd do if I didn't have it," Kolbe said about the Affordable Care Act's policy. "I think the campus could definitely could do more but it's up to each person to understand the plan. But people might ignore it, like every other ad they see."

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