Franciscan University Explains Decision to Drop Requirement for Student Health Insurance

STEUBENVILLE, OH—In April, Franciscan University of Steubenville dropped its requirement for students to purchase health care insurance coverage in direct response to the Obama Administration’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010.

The decision, which was announced to students and parents this spring, was based on two factors: 1) The looming HHS mandate that will require students to purchase coverage for drugs and procedures that violate Catholic moral teaching, and 2) The rapidly rising costs of the existing health care plan offered to students.

Like many universities, Franciscan has long required that all full-time undergraduate students have some form of health insurance and has also offered students who are not covered by their parents’ health insurance the opportunity to purchase their own low-cost insurance plan through the school. By grouping the students together, the University was able to obtain a lower rate for a basic, “no-frills” plan from its health insurance provider, thus ensuring that all students had access to the health care they needed.

During the 2011-2012 school year, approximately 200 of the school’s 2,000 full-time undergraduates took advantage of this plan. The cost was just under $600 per student, per year. Students, not the University, bore this cost.

In addition to helping students purchase an affordable health insurance plan, the University has also, for many years, operated a health care center on campus. There, all students are able to receive care and treatment for most common medical conditions, as well as obtain prescription medications. The cost to students for this service is $5 per visit. The University bears the overwhelming cost of this service.

In January 2012, after Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced that religious institutions such as Franciscan University would be forced to provide health insurance coverage for abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization procedures, and contraception, Franciscan University knew it would soon face a choice between violating its deeply held religious beliefs and continuing to provide its students with the chance to purchase their own affordable health insurance.

Although the University knew that choice really wasn’t a choice at all—it could not go against the teachings of the Catholic faith—it also knew it had another year to work against the decision and hopefully prevent its ultimate implementation.

In March 2012, however, Franciscan’s insurance provider notified the school that the cost of the student insurance plan was set to double for the coming school year. Because the Affordable Care Act prohibited plans that offered only $50,000 worth of coverage per incident (as the University’s plan did), and mandated that the minimal amount of coverage students would be required to purchase for 2012-2013 would be $100,000, students’ annual premiums were set to be approximately $1,200.

Furthermore, the insurance provider told the University that for the following school year—2013-2014—costs were projected to likely triple when the minimum allowable limit was set at $500,000 per incident, possibly costing students upwards of $1,800 annually, and then to continue rising thereafter when any limits whatsoever on coverage per incident would no longer be permissible.

As soon as Franciscan discovered how President Obama’s Affordable Care Act would affect the cost of its students’ insurance plan, making it anything but affordable, it knew that in good conscience, it could no longer require Franciscan students to purchase health insurance. In the current economy, many students and their families are already struggling to pay the cost of tuition and burdening them with further costs seemed unfair.

The University’s hand was forced. In mid-April, Franciscan sent a letter to parents and students, informing them that with the threat of the HHS mandate looming and the immediate cost to students rising rapidly, it would no longer require students to have health insurance. Because of that, the letter went on to explain, it would also no longer be able to offer students the option of purchasing health insurance through the University. Students could explore purchasing insurance on their own, but that would be their decision.

The letter also informed parents that the student health care center on campus would continue to operate as before, providing essentially free health care to students for most of their basic medical needs.

The overwhelming response from parents and students alike was positive. They expressed their support for the University’s decision and their thanks for the consideration shown to families in difficult financial circumstances.

The University is grateful for all the support it has received from friends and strangers alike since its decision became public, and continues to stand by that decision. It is as unjust to require students to pay for health insurance that they cannot afford—that, ironically enough, has been made unaffordable by the Affordable Care Act—as it would be a year from now to force students to pay for services that violate their deeply held religious convictions.

Franciscan University of Steubenville is and, by God’s grace, always will be a passionately Catholic institution, committed to remaining faithful to the teachings of the Catholic Church and providing our students with the best possible Catholic education. We will continue to do all we can to provide for our students’ immediate health care needs, as well as work to overturn an unjust law that does not recognize freedom of conscience, religious liberty, and the value of free markets.

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