In the last couple years, especially since the most recent presidential election, the issue of health care has been in the public eye. Groups such as children, the elderly and the poor are often considered when discussing this issue, but one of the largest affected groups is forgotten: college students.
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, college age students are one of the most uninsured groups in the U.S. While this is often forgotten in the mainstream discussion, some colleges have worked to make health care accessible to their students.
Elizabethtown College offers many healthcare services to students, though there may be room for improvement.
Having access to sufficient and affordable healthcare is essential to the overall well-being of college students. Research at the University of Minnesota points to the fact that students who have access to health insurance (and, in turn, affordable health care) are less likely to use tobacco or engage in high-risk drinking.
Additionally, a memo distributed by NASPA—Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education—cited research done by Bowling Green State University and Farmingdale State College that indicate that students with access to affordable health care through their college are less likely to miss class for health issues and are more likely to stay enrolled at the college.
This research specifically referenced the importance of a student health center. Currently, Etown does not have a health center specifically for students. Instead, there is a registered nurse liaison, Eileen Wagener, who helps fulfill some basic medical needs and can connect students with doctors at Penn State Hershey Medical Center in Elizabethtown.
Services through Wagener are free and include a few medical options, but services are limited.
“Being a nurse, I have to go by what nurses can do by law,” Wagener said.
For services that Wagener is unable to offer, students can see physicians at the Medical Center.
“I have the resource of having the physicians here in the building,” Wagener stated.
Students who seek medical care from physicians at the medical center are subject to costs the same as any other patient. This means that if students have an insurance policy that covers them at Penn State Hershey Medical facilities, their health care will be covered, but if their insurance does not cover these facilities, students may have to pay out of pocket for any services.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) and other recent statutes have made huge strides in helping college age students afford health care, but it has not always been enough. The ACA allows students to stay on their parents’ insurance plan until they reach the age of 26.
Unfortunately, this does not make much of a difference for students whose insurance does not include coverage for medical centers close to their campus.
For Etown students, who may only have access to one health center within a reasonable distance, this provision of ACA may not be enough to help them access reliable health care.
At Etown, every student is automatically enrolled in college-sponsored health insurance. This started during the 2016-2017 school year. This insurance costs around $1700 a semester, though, which makes it unfeasible for many students. Students are not able to use financial aid to cover this cost.
Some students who do not have health insurance that covers the Elizabethtown area and cannot afford to buy the College’s health insurance believe the College should provide more extensive healthcare options.
“I think it’d be easier for students to have a doctor on campus—even once a week. We have the WELL and that’s a very central location, even if there’s [a doctor] in the WELL once a week,” sophomore Savannah Martinez said.
The WELL does offer free over-the-counter medication, as well as feminine hygiene products and condoms. They are also able to connect students with Eileen Wagener, but there is no health official at the WELL.
Sophomore Miguel DeCastro thinks that the WELL is a valuable resource and the access to STD testing and vaccinations on campus is especially important for students. He thinks some things about how healthcare on campus is handled could change, though.
“Our healthcare system focuses on treatment more than education,” DeCastro said.
Director of Student Wellness Bruce Lynch says there is a branch of his job that involves overseeing health promotion on campus. Health promotion events aim to help students be educated on their health and make informed decisions about their well-being.
“We encourage students to use resources and take care of themselves,” Lynch said.