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Improving Student Health Insurance Enrollment

After the U.S. began implementing the Affordable Care Act (ACA) between 2011 and 2015, the percentage of uninsured CUNY undergraduates dropped from nearly 20 percent to 9.4 percent. Now, roughly 25,000 students go without coverage annually even though many qualify for free or low-cost insurance. Four researchers from CUNY’s Graduate School of Public Health & Health Policy set out to understand what barriers might be keeping students from enrolling, when doing so offers protection from future health and financial problems. They published the results of their qualitative study in the Journal of American College Health.

Professor Chris Palmedo, doctoral candidate Katrina Mateo, and recent graduates Eleni Murphy and Jennifer Gallo spoke with undergraduates at four-year and community colleges. They learned that many times the expense and the “complex and obscure enrollment process” kept students from seeking out insurance. “Many CUNY students are eligible for Medicaid, but they don’t even know it,” Palmedo told SUM. “Colleges are trusted communications sources, and can do a lot to take advantage of this important role when it comes to advancing student health.”

More than financial concerns, though, the researchers discovered students didn’t always value health insurance the way they valued health. One key interviewee told the researchers, “Young people … they don’t care. They think they’re young forever and healthy forever.”

Palmedo and his team concluded that colleges could improve enrollment by enhancing their communications efforts. “Many universities can’t afford to provide health insurance for their students, but that doesn’t mean they can’t help direct students to coverage,” he said. Actions like making enrollment information available before registering for classes could help, as could being proactive about messaging. Instead of waiting for students to come to a campus health center with questions, “take the message to the students,” Palmedo explained. He added, “Health can be an important pathway toward academic success — or academic failure.”

Palmedo will speak at the event “Equity Health, and Learning” on November 1. It’s hosted at The Graduate Center, CUNY.

Beyond SUM

Explore This Work
“What do urban college students really think about health insurance? A qualitative study”

Work By
Chris Palmedo (Associate Professor, Community Health and Social Sciences) | Profile 1
Katrina F. Mateo (Doctoral Candidate, Community Health & Social Sciences) | Profile 1

Colleges and Schools
Graduate School of Public Health & Health Policy

Bonus Content
“What do Urban College Students Really Think about Health Insurance?” (SPH News)

Related Terms

Beyond SUM