Two Catholic universities, Franciscan University of Steubenville and Ave Maria University, recently announced that they will drop their student health-care plans for the coming year. The schools also announced that they will no longer require students to have health insurance.
Given the giant range of institutions and people affected by Obamacare and its mandates, the impact of this decision by two universities, each with less than 3,000 students, may seem small. But it is not the scope of impact that matters so much as the broader problem the decision highlights. Two federal regulations that pushed Franciscan and Ave Maria to drop student health-care plans indicate quite clearly what will happen if Obamacare is allowed to stand: More Americans will become uninsured unless they transition into government-subsidized healthcare plans.
As Obamacare passed through Congress, the president promised that everyone could keep his health-care plan if he liked it. No one would be forced to move to a different plan if he was content with the coverage he had. Yet one need only grasp the outcome of each new regulation put forth by the unaccountable bureaucrats at the Department of Health and Human Services to see this lie being gradually exposed.
What Obama should have said is that everyone can keep his plan only if the government likes it. As Obamacare’s burdensome regulations are defined and put into effect, very few existing plans will be able to survive. This seems to be the unspoken goal of Obamacare: to ensure the slow but steady demise of private insurance plans, all under the guise of reform. What this “reform” will leave in its wake is a single, onerous, and restrictive government-run health-care system.
Franciscan and Ave Maria’s decision to drop student health-care plans is just a case in point of institutions being prodded toward this goal. In their case, two recent regulations have led to the decision to drop student health care, a decision that will probably move more people to government-subsidized care.
The first regulation that prompted the universities’ decision is one with which most people are familiar: the HHS mandate that requires all plans to cover abortifacients, contraceptives, and sterilization. Since this mandate violates the moral obligations of these two religiously affiliated universities, and the Obama administration’s religious exemption to this rule is so restrictive—without precedent—the universities’ only option is to mount a legal challenge.
If the courts fail to protect their right of religious liberty, Franciscan and Ave Maria—along with dozens of other religiously affiliated institutions, no doubt—will drop health coverage for employees in addition to students. That move will inevitably drive more people toward the government-subsidized exchanges and away from privately funded plans.
Since the contraceptive mandate will not take effect for another year, however, these schools could have, in good conscience, provided health-care plans to students this year. They decided to drop coverage this year because of a second federal regulation affecting student health-care plans that took effect in March. It stipulates that student health-care plans must have no annual coverage limits by the year 2014. This regulation will be enforced through two intermediate stages: All current plans must have annual coverage limits of at least $100,000, and plans issued after this September must have annual coverage limits of at least $500,000.
Because roughly 25 percent of student health-care plans have annual limits lower than half a million dollars, this means steep premium increases for these students over the next few years. Franciscan and Ave Maria have indicated that their premiums would go up at least 66 percent this year, and more than double next year. By 2014, when these plans must have no annual limit, the premiums will rise even higher.
It might seem that removing annual limits would protect more students from catastrophic health-care costs. But it won’t, because many universities and colleges will probably follow Franciscan and Ave Maria by dropping student health-care plans altogether. Moreover, the typical college student’s health-care costs never even approach the annual limits that have been calculated for these plans. College students are a relatively healthy population for whom low-cost/low-benefit plans are often the option of choice. Not any longer.
The net effect of this change is that it will make health care too expensive for many college students. The Government Accountability Office estimates that this new rule will affect at least 300,000 students in the next two years, and even more in 2014. The adverse effects of implementing this regulation are simple to comprehend from an economic standpoint: The spike in health-care coverage cost will raise the number of uninsured Americans.
While Obamacare requires that all citizens have health insurance coverage by 2014, it is hardly a stretch to assume that some college students may decide that risking the small penalty is better than paying the new higher premiums. Indeed, taking that risk would be a financially sound move for the many students who will not experience serious health-care problems during college. And students who do get hospitalized without insurance will still receive care. Their costs will simply be passed on to the rest of us in the form of higher premiums. All they would have to do is pay the fine.
For students who want to maintain their insurance coverage but cannot afford it, government-subsidized plans—which will be paid for by taxpayers—will make up the difference. Thus the side effects of this regulation—one could hardly call them unintended—are that thousands of students will find themselves either without any health-care insurance at all, or dependent upon the government dole for it.
Most people would see this as problematic, yet the goal of Obamacare seems to be to move people from well-functioning private plans toward government-approved and -subsidized plans. In fact, the very manner by which it is set up has many businesses considering dropping health insurance coverage when Obamacare is fully implemented in 2014. For many businesses it will be cheaper to pay the fine than to offer health-care coverage to their employees.
A report from the House Ways and Means Committee found that once Obamacare is fully implemented in 2014, the average Fortune 100 Company could save $402 million by dropping coverage and pushing its employees into the government-subsidized exchanges. In a market economy, businesses will do what makes economic sense, and the architects of Obamacare not only know this possibility but welcome it.
At the end of the day, the more people the Obamacare architects can corral into government-approved and -subsidized health care by regulating private plans into submission, the more control they will have over the health-care system. They can then further incentivize the dispensing of contraception, abortion, sterilization, and euthanasia—all of which can be at least short-term cost-savers—and at the same time use their own cold utilitarian calculus to determine who gets access to the health-care system. In a bloated unresponsive government-run system, these are the only ways to drive down costs. This is where we are heading once Obamacare fully flexes its muscle.
While the health-care system in America needs to be reformed, Franciscan and Ave Maria’s decision to drop student health-care plans offers just one example of how Obamacare is not the answer. Rather than reforming the system, it is deforming it. Step by step, regulation by regulation, the authors of Obamacare are bent upon creating a monolithic government-controlled system that will eventually take on a life of its own.
Daniel Kuebler is a Professor of Biology at Franciscan University of Steubenville.