New state legislation could affect student futures

by Beacon Staff • February 14, 2007

Commonwealth Choice, a higher-end coverage plan designed by the state for those seeking more complete coverage, either individually or with employer assistance, is the last part of the mandatory-coverage law to be designed, and is also the most contentious.,As Massachusetts last year became the first state requiring health insurance for every resident, graduating Emersonians who choose to stay in the state may be left to pay $200 to $300 for monthly coverage or face a tax penalty, reports indicate.

Commonwealth Choice, a higher-end coverage plan designed by the state for those seeking more complete coverage, either individually or with employer assistance, is the last part of the mandatory-coverage law to be designed, and is also the most contentious.

The cost of the program hinges on whether the individual's income is either above or below 300 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL), equal to $29,400.

The Massachusetts Health Care Connector Authority, an agency established by the new law and charged with its administration, is in talks with BlueCross BlueShield and Tufts Health Plan to determine the rate structure of the Choice program.

Former governor Mitt Romney's original challenge was to find coverage for around $200, but the insurers have come back with plans that move the cost away from a monthly payment and instead, establishes other kinds of requirements.

As a graduate earning more than 300 percent of the FPL, an individual participating in Commonwealth Choice could be left with a monthly premium, high out-of-pocket spending limits and deductibles of $2,000 to $3,000, three to four times what Romney first proposed in 2005.

Talks between the Connector and insurers show that for anyone earning more than 300 percent of the FPL, a financial demographic recent Census data associates with college graduates, premiums could be higher, in the range of $200-$300.

For senior film major Ashley Phillips, that amount would be difficult.

"I'd say $300 means a lot. I've got a considerable amount of student loans, and depending on my job next year, I have to pay for housing and bills and food," Phillips said. "So I think $300 is a lot of money. It's like impossible."

For those earning less than 300 percent of the FPL a sliding scale determines monthly premiums, which range from $18-$106, with $5-$10 co-payments, but for anyone earning more a different scale of rates, which have yet to be finalized by the Connector, will apply.

According to a Boston Globe report, bids from major insurance providers are coming in between $200 and $300 per month, an approximate match to what Romney proposed in 2005.

However, the new policies corresponding deductibles and out-of-pocket limits, or the amount the insurer assumes an individual can pay cash for health service, came in much higher.

Students who are accustomed to being insured by parents or receiving treatment through the no-cost Health and Wellness Center will face the blunt reality of monthly payments, deductibles, referral forms, and the daunting complexity of managed care organizations.

Although Commonwealth Choice has yet to be finalized, strides have been made for those earning even less.

The low-or-no-cost program Commonwealth Care has already been implemented and is showing early signs of success, Connector spokesperson Dick Powers said.

"We have about 45,000 enrolled [in Commonwealth Care]. In addition, we have 55,000 people enrolled in MassHealth. One-hundred thousand people who last year didn't have insurance now have health plans," Powers said. "To be truthful, you have to give it some time," he said.

MassHealth insures-or helps to privately insure-children, senior citizens, and those on disability in Massachusetts, their website said.

But even if costs are driven down further, some people are turned off by the mandated structure of the program.

Todd Hill, a 27-year-old Aramark employee who works at the Max Mutchnick Campus Center Caf