UNC system mandating health coverage for students

Posted March 24, 2010 6:59 p.m. EDT

— Most students in the University of North Carolina system will be required to have health insurance, beginning in the fall.

The mandate affects students on all 16 university campuses – students at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, a magnet high school, are exempt – but isn't the result of the new overhaul of the nation's health care system. UNC administrators want to ensure that students don't face unexpected medical bills if they become ill or get injured on campus.

"I think it makes sense for students to have health insurance. You never know what is going to happen on campus," said Samuel George, a UNC-Chapel Hill freshman.

Students who cannot get insurance from another source, such as a family policy, will be automatically enrolled in the UNC system's insurance plan. Fees for the coverage vary by campus. It will cost $720 a year at North Carolina Central University, $723 at UNC-Chapel Hill and $744 at North Carolina State University.

"I think the only concern is cost for people who can't afford it," said Payton Kendersky, a UNC-Chapel Hill sophomore.

UNC administrators said the system-wide insurance requirement should lead to better negotiated rates and benefits. Officials with the state Department of Insurance said they don't believe national health care reform will affect the university's plan.

The insurance requirement will be new for UNC-Chapel Hill, N.C. State, UNC-Wilmington, East Carolina University and Appalachian State University. Other campuses already have insurance mandates for students.

N.C. Central has required students to have health insurance for more than 20 years, said Charles Bowen, the university's director of student health and counseling services. Seventy-five percent of students on campus enroll in the school's health plan, he said.

"The program has worked exceptionally well," Bowen said. "It's a very small amount to pay considering what one receives in return."

Still, some students worry that the added fee could hurt.

"It's not like we are not already paying enough as it is, and tuition costs don't seem to be getting cheaper," said Sean Greaves, a UNC-Chapel Hill junior.