Offering affordable health care for UT students

Augustine D’Eramo, Columnist

For many Texans, access to affordable health care is a far-fetched dream. Despite being one of the fastest growing states, Texas continues to rank at the bottom of the list for health care accessibility. 

The 2020 census put Texas in 42nd place for “health system performance,” and the 2022 report from the State of Mental Health in America ranks the state 44th for mental health care access. This inadequate state of health care coverage is in large part due to the Texas Legislature’s refusal to broaden Medicaid coverage in Texas through the Affordable Care Act (ACA). 

UT students face the same challenges with health care access. While University Health Services and the Center for Mental Health Counseling offer students high quality care, they deny Medicaid coverage and have limited in-network insurance plans, leaving many in a difficult position to pay for medical expenses. 

In light of health care challenges at UT, UHS and CMHC should work to make student health insurance more affordable for lower-income students. 

According to economics freshman Dinesh Elanchezhian, paying out of pocket medical expenses just isn’t an option for some students, even if costs are low.

“Making these uninsured university students pay for their flu shots, that’s just an incentive to not get your flu shot,” Elanchezhian said. “If you’re from a financially unstable background, even that $5 can make a big difference.” 

UT does offer the Student Health Insurance Plan, but it’s rather expensive at $1,656 for 6 months of coverage. For lower income students, there are no income-based financial assistance programs or special discounts, which makes it troublesome for them to access this plan. 

UHS has also made efforts to reduce the price of its services. For example, the Good Faith Estimates provision assists students who cannot use insurance for UHS costs. While it’s beneficial to provide this assistance, it doesn’t appropriately address the problem. 

Monica Dowd, associate director of business services at UHS and CMHC, explained why UHS and CMHC don’t accept Medicaid from students. 

“If we were to become providers of Medicaid services, then it would open up our patient base and require us to see not just students but all community patients, which really defeats the purpose of our University Health Center, which is focused more on our student population,” Dowd said.

While it’s beneficial to keep UHS and CMHC focused on the student population, it’s more important that students who rely on Medicaid are still able to access health care. Even if UT health centers have to adapt and accommodate a larger group of patients through Medicaid, UT should set a precedent by providing accessible and quality health care before all other considerations.

As an alternative to accepting Medicaid, UHS and CMHC could work to create a financial aid award for students who meet certain financial requirements. This health care fee award would help offset the costs of specific medical visits or of purchasing a new in-network insurance plan such as SHIP. 

UT health care should be more affordable. Given the financial burdens of UT health care under the current system, UT fails to serve its lower income students. UHS and CMHC could begin to accept Medicaid or offer financial aid to assist those who rely on out-of-network insurance plans. With these initiatives, UT would show its commitment to the health and safety of students and would chart a new course for health care in Texas. 

D’Eramo is a Plan II and International Relations junior from Tyler, Texas.