Before most University of South Carolina students can attend class next month they'll have to prove they have health insurance or agree to pay up to $2,047 for coverage through the university.
All current undergraduates and graduates taking more than six credit hours of classes and all international students will either have to get insurance through the university's plan, prove they are on their parents' plan or buy their own health insurance, according to USC's website.
USC's health insurance, through BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina, costs $2,047 for the year. That can be paid all at once, or in two installments: $869 in the fall semester and $1,178 for the spring semester — something that could benefit students graduating in the winter.
"I was barely scraping by to pay tuition and they hit me with this," said senior mass communication major Jessica Waters.
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Waters said she did not have health insurance and has been working full-time during the summer as a waitress to pay her way through school. When she gets sick, she said she has no problem going to the doctor and paying full price.
"Who are they to say I should have health insurance?" Waters said.
The plan, which USC says is equivalent to the Health Insurance Marketplace's "gold" plan, offers free care at the Student Health Center, a $750 in-network deductible and a $1,500 out-of-network deductible.
The new policy applies only to students on USC's main campus. USC undergraduates at branch campuses can buy health insurance through the university, albeit at a higher cost than their Columbia counterparts.
"Research shows that students who have adequate health insurance coverage are healthier and are more likely to complete their academic goals," USC spokesman Wes Hickman said in a written statement. "Those who are uninsured have a higher chance of dealing with more severe illnesses due to the lack of affordable health care. Since unexpected sickness is one of the leading factors for family debt, student health insurance should be seen as an essential investment."
Waters doesn't think that's true. She said she had the flu and strep throat last year and still finished her classes with As and Bs.
Students won't likely save money going to the Health Insurance Marketplace, at healthcare.gov, for individual insurance. The lowest-premium plan available on the marketplace, the bronze, costs $468 per year more than USC's plan and has a higher deductible, according to estimates from healthcare.gov.
Students who are on their parents' insurance or have their own insurance have until September 15 to waive the fee if their plan meets the following requirements, according to the university's website:
- Be effective as of Aug. 1 for the fall term or Jan. 1 for the spring term;
- Provide coverage through the entire semester covered by the waiver, including breaks and holidays.
- Allow the student to receive services in South Carolina.
- Provide unlimited aggregate maximum benefit per policy year for the covered student;
- Not have pre-existing condition limitations.
- Have an out-of-pocket limit per policy year that does not exceed $6,350 per individual and $15,000 per family.
The University of Florida requires undergraduate students to have health insurance, but it costs more per year, $2,238, than USC's policy. Clemson and University of Georgia require graduate students, but not undergraduate students, to have health insurance. However, for undergraduates who want to enroll, the annual premium is more: $2,795 annually for Clemson undergraduates and $2,258 per year for Georgia undergraduates.
Annual premium cost
- USC employee (lowest premium policy): $445
- USC student (only policy): $2,047
- Clemson undergraduate (optional) : $2,795
- BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina through HealthCare.gov: $2,515