30% of college students report being uninsured, most citing cost

Young people learn about the federal healthcare law at an L.A. festival last fall. A new poll indicates concern about the price of health coverage among uninsured college students.
(Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times)

About a third of California college students report being uninsured and they said the primary reason was cost, not an aura of invincibility, according to a new survey.

The results released Monday are based on a poll of 836 students at three Cal State University campuses last fall in Los Angeles, Fresno and San Jose.

Enrollment among young people remains a top priority for government exchanges and other supporters of the healthcare law. The new insurance marketplaces need enough healthier policyholders to offset the costs of sicker, older customers.


Through the end of last year, 125,033 people ages 18 to 34 had enrolled in private health plans through the Covered California exchange, or 25% of total enrollment. However, that age group represents 36% of people who are eligible for federal premium subsidies.

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Many college students stand to qualify for government assistance toward health coverage based on their relatively low incomes.

First Lady Michelle Obama urged more young people to sign up for health insurance during a radio interview with host Ryan Seacrest last week, saying their monthly premiums could be less than a cellphone bill.

Walter Zelman, chairman of the Department of Public Health at Cal State L.A., said the survey results run counter to the widely-held theory that students believe they are immune to accidents or poor health, so coverage isn’t deemed necessary.

“This is not about invincibility; it is about affordability,” he said.

Zelman is director of the health insurance education project for the Cal State university system. The outreach effort has received grant funding from the state exchange.


In the survey, 79% of students said they didn’t have health insurance because they could not afford it. Only 9% said they didn’t think they needed it or didn’t want it.

“Most students may be in good health, and when compared to older individuals, insurance may not be high on their priority list,” Zelman said. “They just have not been able to afford it.”


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