University of Montana health insurance rates skyrocket 

Federal tweaks to the laws governing healthcare are forcing the University of Montana and other state campuses to increase student insurance premiums.

"We're losing our youngest, healthiest population. That's kind of the bottom line," says UM's Health Services Administrator Rick Curtis.

In 2010, Congress passed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The law now requires health insurance companies to offer parents the opportunity to keep children on their own insurance plans until the children turn 26.

To remedy losses from last year and keep its plan above water through 2013, the Montana University System, including UM, is implementing an age-tier premium. People over 40, responsible for a disproportionate amount of overall costs, will pay more than their younger peers.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield health insurance offered through UM now costs $852 a semester. (The premium is charged each semester, but provides six months' worth of coverage.) Next year, students under 40 will pay a projected $955 per semester—a 12 percent hike. Students 40 and up will see a roughly 110 percent increase. Curtis estimates the over-40 population will pay $1,788 a semester.

Montana University System Benefit Plan Director Connie Welsh says the increase will be tough on students. However, people over 40 will still get a relatively good deal through the university system's Blue Cross coverage. "This rate is 40 percent lower than their best rate," she says.

Another change this fall will be an increase in the number of credits required to qualify for UM insurance. There's currently a four-credit minimum. Administrators have found that students taking four to six credits were three times more likely to file a claim than students carrying a heftier course load. To help offset the disproportionate costs associated with part-time students, administrators are increasing to seven the minimum number of credits required to receive health insurance. Students who have temporarily light course loads—for instance, those completing a thesis or a final class—can petition the university to keep their insurance.

Changes implemented for the 2012-2013 school year will likely be tweaked again after the U.S. Supreme Court weighs in on the legality of federal healthcare reform in the coming months.

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