State insurance commissioner talks health care during Penn State visit

Between cramming for exams, maintaining an active social life and maybe fitting in a little time to sleep, a personal health care plan is probably not high on the average college student’s list of priorities.

But it should be, according to Pennsylvania Insurance Department Commissioner Teresa Miller, who visited Penn State on Thursday to kick off an outreach effort to educate college students across the state of the options available to them under the Affordable Care Act.

“Heath insurance isn’t necessarily an intuitive thing,” Miller said. “A lot of students are probably on their parents’ plan. Maybe that’s the best option for them, maybe it’s not, but we’re trying to put this on the radar for them.”

As penalties increase, students need to know not only the importance of shopping around, she said, but about the options and how to look for the best coverage at the best rate. Perhaps most importantly, students need to know insurance coverage is a requirement with a penalty for non-coverage.

“The penalties ramp up under the Affordable Care Act for not having minimum coverage,” she said. “In 2014 it was $95 — some people thought they would just pay that and be done. This year the penalty is $395, and next year it will be $695 or 2 percent of your total income.”

These costs are turning into real money for students, Miller said, who need to evaluate the cost-benefit analysis of remaining uninsured or purchasing coverage.

According to the letter, which will be sent out an an undetermined date, students are allowed to stay on their parents’ health plan until age 26, or age 29 if under a Pennsylvania employer’s group plan. However, the letter said, those who are planning on relocating after graduation may need to consider a different plan if health care providers in their new area don’t accept their plans.

The letter directs students to to purchase coverage through the health insurance marketplace. Those with insurance-related questions can visit the insurance department’s own site at to speak to an insurance navigator or agent.

The letter will be sent out to the 14 members of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, the 89 members of the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Pennsylvania, Harrisburg Area Community College and Montgomery County Community College, according to a news release.

Miller’s visit was a good opportunity for the state to alert students to the subject of health insurance, Penn State spokeswoman Lisa Powers said.

“It’s an important thing to think about,” Powers said, “especially if you’re going to be graduating, going out and getting a job. That’s all part of it.”

Helping students make better decisions about budgeting and money management is at the heart of Penn State and its financial literacy program. According to a Penn State media release, students take part in hands-on workshops, one-on-one or group counseling, webinars and online help and tutorials.

“Our goal is to help our students acquire financial literacy as a life skill to help them graduate, manage their debt successfully and plan for a better financial future,” financial literacy coordinator Daad Rizk said in the release. “Financial literacy education is the foundation for making informed financial decisions.”