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College insurance mandate is also wrong

College insurance mandate is also wrong

Wayne Hoffman
May 7, 2012

Larry Grant makes a point in his column last week that should not go ignored: Grant, the chairman of the Idaho Democrats, noted that the State Board of Education voted last month to continue enforcing its mandate that full-time Idaho college students purchase insurance.

Grant thinks he’s exposed an example of hypocrisy — with state officials opposing mandatory health insurance (Obamacare) but supporting it in the case of the state’s students enrolled in higher education. “Every time uninsured people end up in emergency rooms, everyone else pays for it, either in higher insurance premiums for all of us or higher taxes when the county has to pick up the bill,” Grant said.

He has a point, but not the one he was hoping for.

When healthy college students are required to carry health insurance, someone has to pick up the cost. And that someone is college students and their parents. And it’s no small amount of money. Students at Boise State University will see their premiums go up by almost 31 percent to more than $2,100 a year. Idaho State University students will experience the biggest percentage increase in premiums — 46.5 percent to a little less than $1,900 a year. At the University of Idaho, students will pay about $1,500 a year, up 5 percent from the current year.

The Idaho Statesman reported that university officials spoke against a yearlong break in the health insurance mandate out of concern that healthy students would opt to go without insurance and, thus, leave a smaller pool of insured students, which, in turn, would drive up premiums.

Spot the irony? Insurance premiums for college students have gone up — quite significantly — even with the insurance mandate in place. And that’s for a rather healthy participant pool.

Grant thinks this is proof that people who don’t want insurance should be compelled to buy it. Naturally, I think it means people are being compelled to buy an increasingly expensive product for no good reason.

The natural consequence is to force students to graduate college with more debt, amortized over decades, and with nothing to show for it. The result is predictable. The cost for a mandated product has gone up. Mandate that all college students buy bicycles, and I guarantee you that the cost of bicycles will increase in price.

The same is true for the general population. The Obamacare health insurance mandate is causing health insurance costs to increase, not decrease. The effect of this is that more people are choosing to go without insurance. Businesses are choosing to drop coverage. And yes, some college students are choosing to not attend college because they can’t afford the increase in costs.

Grant wants you to believe that people have a societal obligation to buy health insurance. He believes the state Board of Education’s decision to mandate health insurance exposes critics of President Obama for making their anti-insurance mandate case out of political necessity, and not because of a sincere objection to the president’s public policy. He wants you to believe there’s nothing wrong with using the force of government to make people buy a product.

I’d argue that the state’s insurance mandate for college students and the one proposed under Obamacare are in the same camp. Both are an assault on freedom. Both trade liberty for convenience. Both have unintended and unfortunate consequences. Neither public policy deserves support.

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