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The U.S. Census Bureau reports that adults ages 19-34 had the highest uninsured rates of any group in the U.S. And even if students are insured, they’re likely to be on their parent’s plan, which may not cover out-of-state or out-of-network providers. Expanding college students’ access to care is important. But the seamless integration of care into the lives of students is equally (if not more) important.
Health care access is defined as being able to get the health care coverage one needs when it is needed, and at an affordable cost. Unfortunately, a study on student access to health care confirms that college-aged young adults are overrepresented in the uninsured population, with one disproportionately affected population being traditionally underserved minority students. Students with private health insurance coverage are often functionally uninsured, having difficulty paying for healthcare. This forces uninsured and functionally uninsured students to rely on school-sponsored health insurance plans for access to care. The study notes that these plans often have uneven coverage, limited benefits, exclusions and high co-pays and deductibles, and provide little health care security for students.
What happens when there are barriers to care?
College is stressful for students. In fact, nearly all college students complain about significant stress. It’s normal for students to feel worried, anxious, restless, or sad from time to time. Common health challenges for students also include anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and substance abuse. Additionally, psychiatric disorders such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia often emerge when people are in their late teens to early thirties. If these feelings or mental health symptoms persist, they can interfere with daily living and academic performance. Without treatment, college students are more likely to drop out, abuse substances, and commit suicide.
According to the 2021 Center for Collegiate Mental Health Annual Report, college students are increasingly experiencing and reporting mental health issues. Findings suggest that some students may be at a higher risk for mental health challenges, including undocumented students, veteran students, and LGBTQ students. Students from low socioeconomic backgrounds and have low social support are also at a higher risk, especially considering the increasing cost of attendance and related food insecurity issues.
Simply put, students need easily accessible care to stay healthy, engaged, and on the graduation path. Research confirms that having health insurance is associated with:
- Better health
- Lower health care costs
- Less debt
In contrast, not having health insurance is associated with:
- Higher rates of preventable deaths and illnesses
- More difficulty paying medical bills and higher debt
- The use of less effective and more expensive medical care
A report by Healthy CUNY and CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy found that those students who have access to their parent’s health insurance are more likely to enroll in college than those whose parents lack coverage. Young people who have access to health insurance via a parent are 5% to 22% more likely to enroll as full-time students than individuals without parental health insurance.
The CUNY report asserts this:
“Several plausible pathways may link having health insurance with outcomes that influence academic success in college students including better use of preventive services, thus avoiding more serious illnesses and absences or leaves; earlier intervention for depression, an important cause of academic problems; fewer unintended pregnancies as a result of better access to contraceptive care; better management of chronic conditions such as diabetes and asthma; and lower medical debts that could interfere with tuition payments. To our knowledge, empirical studies have not yet tested these hypotheses.”
In the Healthy CUNY survey, 13.5% of CUNY undergraduates — over 33,000 students — reported that some health problem had interfered with their school work. Overall, 13.2% of CUNY students reported they had been diagnosed with a chronic condition in the last five years, with asthma, diabetes, and hypertension the most commonly reported illnesses. Students with one or more chronic conditions were more likely to have a grade point average of less than 2.5, to have failed out of a degree program, and/or to have taken a leave of absence from school.
Support students' health care needs at all hours
The connection between education and health
According to the Center on Health and Society, Americans with fewer years of education have poorer health and shorter lives. Surprisingly, since the 1990s, life expectancy has actually decreased for people without a high school education. Education is important, not only for higher-paying jobs and economic productivity, but also for saving lives and saving dollars.
Americans with more education live longer and healthier lives than those with fewer years of schooling. But why does education matter so much to health? The links are complex and tied closely to income and to the opportunities people have to lead healthy lives in their communities. The Center on Health and Society lists these connections between education and health:
Higher earning potential
Income has a major effect on health, and workers with more education tend to earn more money. In 2021, the median wage for college graduates was more than twice that of high school dropouts and more than one and a half times higher than that of high school graduates.
Improved access to resources for health
Advanced social and psychological skills
Larger social networks
More knowledge and skills related to healthy behaviors
How to expand access to health care services for college students
Here are three initiatives for how institutions of higher education can advocate for the integration of care into the lives of students:
- Provide your student body with 24/7/365 physical and mental health services via telehealth support. Care delivered through telehealth is fast, easy, and efficient. It eliminates wait times, reduces the stigma of seeking mental and medical care, and is available the moment a student needs care. When students don’t have to wait days or weeks for a counseling center and health centers appointment, there’s a positive effect on student health and wellness.
- Create opportunities for people to pool their bargaining power to purchase student health insurance. This will help young Americans who are not offered employer coverage to get a better deal, and provide coverage that will follow them job to job.
- The Affordable Care Act was developed to help individuals access affordable health insurance through the Health Insurance Marketplace where Americans can purchase federally regulated and subsidized health insurance during open enrollment. Make sure to publish information about Marketplace plans on your college website, orientation materials, etc.
Virtual health and technology integrations enhance access to care for college students
Telehealth is now a common part of many people’s lives, with the pandemic accelerating the adoption of virtual care options. By some estimates, nearly 25% of all care in the future could be delivered remotely. The U.S. telehealth market reached around $10 billion in 2020 with an 80% year-over-year growth due to the COVID-19 pandemic. What’s more, the telemedicine market is predicted to exceed $175 billion by 2026, suggesting that telehealth services will continue to be implemented for use by more populations — including college students.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES) helped make virtual health care more accessible than ever before. And in the past couple of years, many higher education leaders have seen first hand what virtual health can mean for college students. As the impact of the pandemic continues, the CDC advised “leveraging telemedicine technologies and self-assessment tools to prevent further spread and help flatten the curve.” Virtual care can play a vital role in helping colleges return to some sense of normalcy, while providing enhanced access to high-quality, on-demand healthcare services.
Technology integrations between online services like TimelyMD help improve access to care and make it an even more seamless experience.
Online well-being courses
Electronic health record (EHR) system
Another side of seamless access care is continuity of care, which enables a student to have a seamless experience whether seeing a virtual provider via telehealth and/or an in-person provider on campus. Through PyraMED’s electronic health record (EHR) integration with TimelyMD, virtual visit records are shared with on-campus providers.
These integrations are an example of emerging healthcare technology that improves coordination and collaboration. This results in reduced waiting times, increased communication, and connected students who have the information, resources, and support they need. Ultimately, this helps students achieve optimal health, academic success, and personal well-being.
When college campuses strategically coordinate, integrate, and utilize technology to ensure continuity of care, schools create an environment that enables students to access care efficiently. At the same time, health care professionals have the health information they need to ensure students can be healthy and thrive. A fully integrated telehealth solution helps students avoid unnecessary urgent care and hospitalization bills, while getting their care needs met more quickly than traditional care facilities may provide. By committing to high-quality, high-touch, integrated health care, institutions provide peace of mind for campus administrators, health care professionals, students, and their families.
Contact TimelyMD to learn how an integrated healthcare solution with telehealth can support your students’ health, academic success, and personal well-being.