The Insurance page on the college’s website is four sentences.
“JCCC does not provide health insurance plans for students. If you need health insurance, visit healthcare.gov to enroll in a plan.
Open enrollment runs from Nov. 1 to Dec. 15 each calendar year.
You can enroll or change plans at any time if you have certain life changes or are newly qualified for Medicaid or CHIP.”
This will work for those who meet the requirements, unless the Trump administration’s attempts to invalidate the Affordable Care Act (ACA) move forward. Then, those relying on healthcare.gov for insurance will be at risk of losing coverage. However, there is support for school-sponsored student health insurance on campus.
“Having good healthcare coverage is important,” Karen LaMartina, director, nursing program, said. “We don’t have any student health services on campus, which we have tried in the past to implement.”
A lack of student health services is especially detrimental to the nursing students LaMartina oversees. The nursing program requires students to have health insurance as a prerequisite.
LaMartina said part of the reason for the requirement is that the Collegiate Nurse Educators of Greater Kansas City (CNE), which governs over nursing education in the region, requires it. Another is the risk that comes with working in a medical environment.
“The most common thing is if they have a needle stick with a contaminated needle,” LaMartina said. “Sometimes the hospitals will help to take care of that through their employee health, but sometimes they don’t and sometimes the cost is borne by the student.”
Finding and paying for health insurance can be a serious struggle for students in the program, LaMartina said. She said that sometimes, students are left without a good option.
“A handful of times a year I’ll have a student come to me and say, ‘I don’t have personal health insurance,’” LaMartina said. “They’re older than 26 years old, so they’re no longer covered under their parents, but maybe they are single, they don’t have a spouse to help them. They’re not working because they’re in the program. So, they’re kind of stuck. That’s the typical student that will come to me and say, ‘I don’t know what to do.’”
Pam Vassar, assistant dean of student life, said the college has never offered health insurance. They just distributed brochures.
“We had a brochure for a company out of Lawrence,” Vassar said. “We didn’t buy insurance; we want students to make their own choices about what’s right for them as opposed to us saying, ‘here’s the plan for you.’”
The Benefits Coordinator, Jerry Zimmerman said it is unusual for a community college to offer its students health insurance because insurance companies don’t want to cover students.
“No insurer will underwrite students unless I make it a requirement that every single student in the college has to be in the plan,” Zimmerman said. “When we’re talking about 19,000 students, I think it’s reasonable for you and me to assume that not everybody wants healthcare here.”
He said that while the school could provide a medical plan to students, it would be costly for both parties, potentially reaching $200 a month for students.
“Most of those insurers insist upon all of the money being upfront,” Zimmerman said. “Many of the schools that I’ve looked at say you can’t even enroll unless I get that $800 right up front.”
The potential cost for the school would be significantly higher, in the multi-millions, Zimmerman said. He said the increase could raise the price of tuition.
Many schools that mandate health insurance also offer it. But, the college’s position leaves nursing students vulnerable. Zimmerman said there are two groups of students who do have health insurance through the school; international students, and student athletes.
Both groups are required by the college to have health insurance. While international students must pay for their plan, student athletes have theirs provided free-of-charge by the school while they’re playing.
“We provide it in the context of the sport. So, [they are covered] if they’re injured while performing for us,” Zimmerman said. “But they’re not paying for that. The college is providing that coverage.”
Zimmerman said he was unaware that nursing students are also required to hold health insurance for performing their job functions.
He said he recommends students go through healthcare.gov for insurance. Most students would be able to get a better plan for less money because of the subsidies, Zimmerman said.
However, not all students meet the eligibility criteria for a government plan, and some have aged out of their parent’s plans. In order to qualify for employer-based insurance, it is typically necessary to work 40 hours a week. This, LaMartina discourages.
“If they have to work, we ask them to not work more than maybe 15 to 20 hours a week because our program is so rigorous and time intensive,” La Martina said. “Often times they tell me, ‘I have to work because I need the insurance benefits.’”
Micala Kreighbaum is one of those students. On top of the full-time nursing program, she works full-time as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) where she receives insurance benefits. Kreighbaum said she knows a few of her peers do the same.
“It’s do-able, or I wouldn’t be here, but it hinders me,” Kreighbaum said. “It means some people get lower test scores because they have to spend time at work.”
Kreighbaum said that requiring health insurance for nursing students makes sense for liability purposes, but that she doesn’t fully understand how it correlates. When asked if she thought the school should offer health insurance for its students, she said she thought it would be a good investment because of the prerequisite for her program.
“Especially if it’s required,” Kreighbaum said. “There could be criteria to meet, like keeping a C grade to be insured.”
Kreighbaum seems to have found success at the college. But she said her job has prevented her from dedicating herself to her education like she wants to.
“It’s hard to find a balance between work and school,” Kreighbaum said. “If I weren’t working, I could really give this my all.”
Kreighbaum’s peers in the nursing program have been dropping out at a much higher rate in the last two years than they were before. Formerly, LaMartina said, the program had a five percent drop-out rate. This year, she said it is between 10 and 20 percent. It’s a trend she is seeing nationwide in nursing programs and it is due in part, but not entirely, to the healthcare requirement.
“It’s not always about insurance. It’s just, you know, meeting those demands, paying their bills,” LaMartina said. “When I ask students ‘what led to their exiting the program’, they [said they] had to work.”