Full-time college students in New Jersey would no longer be required to have health insurance under a bill that has passed the state Senate and is on its way to the Assembly.
The bill has been fast-tracked at the urging of officials at the state’s private and community colleges concerned that the increased coverage required under the new federal health care law could price some students out of college next year.
“We want students to have insurance, and we will continue to offer it,” said Robert Polakowski, vice president of the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of New Jersey. “But we don’t want to have to require it.”
The bill was approved in December by the state Senate in a 32-3 vote. The Assembly Higher Education Committee approved it Monday, and it now goes to the full Assembly.
New Jersey is one of a handful of states that require full-time four-year college students to have health insurance, and may be the only state to require it of full-time community college students, college officials said. The law passed in 1991.
Colleges contract with health insurance providers, and the current cost ranges from $100 to about $800 per year, college officials said.
Students who are covered under their parents’ health insurance policies, or who have their own, can get a waiver of the college insurance. The new federal law allows children to remain on their parents’ insurance until they are 26.
Polakowski said the colleges need a quick legislative decision because the fiscal year begins July 1, and the insurance providers and colleges will soon be negotiating contracts for the 2013-14 academic year. He said they are concerned that premiums could rise to $1,200 or $1,500 per year.
About a third of private college students get insurance through their colleges, Polakowski said. There were no statewide numbers available for four-year public colleges or community colleges.
Locally, Richard Stockton College officials said that for fall 2012, 1,354 students applied for insurance through the college, and 6,902 got waivers because they had other coverage.
Atlantic Cape Community College officials said that in the fall 2012 semester, about 2,000 full-time students, out of a total of 3,663 enrolled, got insurance through the college, or about 55 percent. According to the college’s list of fees, insurance costs $46 per semester for full-time students.
Students who are getting degrees online do not have to carry the insurance.
Jacob Farbman, spokesman for the New Jersey Council of County Colleges, said college policies are typically very basic, often covering just emergencies. He said the concern is that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act requires a much higher level of coverage, making it more expensive.
Students interviewed said they want to have insurance but can see why some students would opt out if the cost rises substantially.
Stockton student Taria Brown, 23, of Egg Harbor Township, said she is covered under her mother’s insurance and is very appreciative of that provision because of the cost.
Atlantic Cape student Mariea Barley, 31, of Galloway Township, said she has a family and her own health insurance, but can understand why a young person without insurance might not want to pay too much to have it.
“You need health insurance,” she said. “But if students will have to take out student loans to pay for it, they might not get it, especially if they are just out of high school.”
Under the new health care law, adults without insurance would pay a penalty of $95 next year, far less than the cost of insurance. But the penalty could rise into the hundreds of dollars if they do need health care services.
Students can use college financial aid to cover the cost of insurance, but Polakowski said federal and state grant programs such as Pell and TAG don’t always cover the full cost of tuition and fees, leaving students to pay the difference themselves or take out loans.
Farbman said that for the community colleges the issue is affordability.
“Our primary concern is that students won’t be able to afford the insurance, and that might become a barrier to attending college,” he said.
Contact Diane D’Amico: