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Duke expects higher enrollment on University health plan if Obamacare is repealed

<p>All Duke students are able to use the Student Health and Wellness Center, regardless of their insurance plan.&nbsp;</p>

All Duke students are able to use the Student Health and Wellness Center, regardless of their insurance plan. 

As Republican legislators press forward with plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act, the University hopes to address student concerns about access to insurance. 

Student health care currently operates through both private insurance plans and the Student Medical Insurance Plan, said Kelan Beacham, insurance manager for the Student Health and Wellness Center. It is still unclear when the Affordable Care Act will be officially repealed, at what point the repeal will actually go into effect and what the contents of a potential Republican replacement might be. But Beacham indicated that the University expects enrollment in the student plan to jump. 

“There are roughly around 15,000 to 16,000 students in the Fall, and this year I think we’re right around 7,700 or so [that are] actually enrolled in the student plan,” he said. 

Duke currently mandates that all students maintain "adequate medical insurance" while enrolled, either through SMIP or their own provider. If students fail to demonstrate adequate insurance through another provider, they will be automatically enrolled in the student plan.

Beacham argued that the student plan—which costs $2,525 per year—is more cost-effective than a private plan through the Affordable Care Act. 

“It averages out to about $210 per month, and it’s [equivalent to] a platinum plan on the exchange,” Beacham said. “Usually platinum plans, from my experience, have started around three or four hundred dollars a month on average.”

Beacham said he hopes that program coordinators will schedule orientations about University-provided insurance, especially for students who matriculated from smaller schools and may not be aware of these opportunities. 

Colleen McClean, an M.D./Ph.D. candidate and a member of The Chronicle's independent editorial board, said the landscape is still too chaotic to accurately predict what will happen to health care moving forward. However, she hypothesized that a new Republican-plan might see reduced provisions for marginalized populations and reduced access to women’s health options.

“I think definitely we’re going to see removal of a lot of those provisions that were very beneficial to certain populations that are typically underserved by our health care system with the repeal of Obamacare,” McClean said. “We’re going to see a rollback on a lot of the protection that we’ve seen under the ACA preexisting condition protection, which is a big deal for a lot of people who had not previously been able to have insurance prior to the ACA and will likely lose the insurance options that they now have after the repeal of the ACA.”

Both McClean and Beacham agreed that the repeal of Obamacare would likely result in an increased enrollment in Duke’s student insurance plan. But for students nonetheless concerned with their insurance moving forward, Beacham also stressed that every student—except for online students and those studying abroad—is charged a health fee every semester. 

This fee allows all students to make use of the Student Health and Wellness Center for routine visits such as physical exams as well as injuries and illness without using their insurance plan. The fee also covers counseling and sexual assault support services. 

“The biggest misconception is if [students] don’t have the Duke's [student health plan], they cannot be seen here,” Beacham said. “Anyone can be seen here that pays the health fee, whether they have Duke insurance or not.”

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