By JENN BOGDAN
ANNAPOLIS (Nov. 20, 2008) - More than 250,000 Maryland adults under age 30 lacked health insurance in 2006, prompting health care officials to call for mandatory coverage for all college students during a House committee hearing Wednesday.
But representatives from Maryland's colleges and universities told the Health and Government Operations Committee that requiring health care coverage for students would raise the cost of higher education and hurt enrollment.
"Many of our institutions that are dependent upon tuition have serious concerns that if they don't meet their enrollment targets within the next few years, that really could have the serious implication of causing some of these institutions to fail," said Bret Schreiber, vice president of the Maryland Independent College and University Association.
Studies in the Journal of Higher Education suggest that for every $100 increase in college tuition for undergraduates, enrollments decline by 2 percent, officials said at the meeting.
College and university officials touted numerous other reasons not to mandate student health insurance, including one study suggesting that individuals who earn a bachelor's degree are highly likely to obtain coverage after they graduate.
That explanation didn't appease Rep. James Hubbard, D-Prince George's. He said today's young adults do not understand the value of health insurance and would be more likely to maintain coverage if it's made an early priority.
"Most people who are young adults, educated or not, who are very healthy, don't want to buy health insurance today," said Hubbard. "They want to wait until they get married or have their first baby or turn 30."
Andy Clark, director of legislative affairs for the University System of Maryland, argued that student health insurance is not necessarily a top priority. One list of health concerns generated by the American College Health Association listed student insurance as 10th on a list of priorities, behind immunizations and sexual health, he said.
"Getting students health care is important, but it's not leading the hit parade of all the other college health issues that students will be dealing with," said Clark.
Rep. Joseline Pena-Melnyk, D-Prince George's, said allowing so many students to remain uninsured was simply not an option. She argued that since international students and student athletes are currently required to have insurance, all college students should be held to the same standard.
Maryland's NCAA athletes are required to be insured under association guidelines. International students are required to be insured under immigration law.
Pena-Melnyk also said she had a hard time trusting the data that suggested student insurance premiums, estimated to cost $1,000 a year on average, would change a student's mind about college since the cost would only account for a fraction of total tuition. "I can tell you that $1,000 a year was not going to make a difference for me," Pena-Melnyk said of her own experience paying for college. "I hope that you are open to some compromise because we need to take care of those people that are not covered."
Capital News Service contributed to this report.