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Volume 72, Issue 68, Tuesday, November 28, 2006

News

Better to be covered

Insurance policy offered through UH can cut down on health expenses

by CYNTHIA BRUM
The Daily Cougar

When filling out their holiday wish lists, students may want to ask for health insurance this season.

"One of the things that they tell me, in my interaction with students, is, ‘I don't need health insurance if I'm young and healthy,'" Floyd Robinson, director of the UH Health Center, said.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, people in the age range from 18 to 34 are the largest uninsured age group, with Texas leading the nation with the most uninsured.

The Health Center has seen a growing number of serious illnesses, such as cancer, in young people in their 20s.

"We've diagnosed young women 21 to 22 years of age with breast cancer, with no family history, and 23-year-old men with testicular cancer," Robinson said. "So yeah, you're youthful, but there are catastrophic things that happen to youthful people."

With the rising costs of health care in the U.S., many are without health insurance and depend on the emergency room for non-emergency care. 

Overcrowded ER waiting rooms and long waits have lead many people to seek care from area health clinics, but it can take as long as 120 days for an appointment at some clinics, according to a 2005 report by the Harris County Hospital District. 

The average waiting time at a public hospital ER in the Texas Medical Center is 6.5 hours, according to the Harris County Hospital District.

The UH Health Center offers students an opportunity to seek medical attention for many kinds of needs, and instead of visiting an ER for a stomachache, which could cost hundreds of dollars, students can use the health facility located on campus.

Health insurance is not required for visits to the Health Center. 

"That's part of the privilege of being a student," said Mary Ann Maher, president of Macori Inc., the company that provides student health insurance for the University.

Having UH student health insurance "is less than most ER visits," Maher said.

"The student health insurance is $840 a year, and that's what a lot of people pay a month," she said.

Many students, however, are not aware they have access to UH health insurance.

"I used health insurance at my time at the University," Jessica Vences, who graduated in 2005 with a degree in communication disorders, said. "At first I didn't know it was available and much less that it was (available) at such a low price compared to how much I would've paid on my own."

Students with or without health insurance are required to pay fees each semester to support the Health Center. Because of this, the service fees are lower than at area doctor's offices.

"The people who come here and have health insurance and get a visit for $20 could pay $200 outside," Maher said.

Students also have access to some of the best doctors in Houston, Maher said.

"A lot of the physicians at the student Health Center have private practices, and they have some of the best orthopedist and some of the best gynecologists in the Houston marketplace," Maher said.

If care the Health Center cannot provide is needed, students will be referred to a physician outside of the University. If the student has insurance through UH, the policy will cover the cost of that doctor's visit. 

Still, Robinson said convincing young people they need health insurance is challenging.

"One thing that students in their 20, never anticipate is the dreaded cancer," Robinson said. "‘How can I have cancer? I'm 24 and I'm athletic, and I eat all the right foods. I don't drink, and I don't do any drugs.' 

"And suddenly that lump is not just a pulled muscle, and at 24 you don't anticipate that. ‘Where am I going to go, and what am I going to do? I don't have a primary care physician, and I don't have an oncologist that I can go to and get advice.' Those are the students we see."

Robinson encourages students to think about getting health insurance coverage and to come by the facility and ask questions.

"It really helped me throughout the college years, especially because I have asthma and I am in constant need of my medicine," Vences said. "I actually miss that now that I've graduated."

For more information on student health insurance, visit www.macori.com or call the Health Center at (713) 743-5151.

--Additional reporting by Evelyn Villatoro.

 Send comments to dcnews@mail.uh.edu

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