The findings will be used to help officials decide whether they will select a physicians’ group to administer health services, or whether they will maintain the university-run system that is now in place.
“We need all the facts on which to base decisions. That is the reason for the survey,” JSU Board of Trustees member Randy Jones said.
The questionnaire is aimed at determining how many students have health insurance, among other things. It was prompted in the spring by questions that arose from the university’s attempt to solicit proposals from outside health care providers, university officials said at the time.
At the summer board meeting, trustees voted to select the Atlanta-based research firm Lassiter and Associates to poll JSU students and employees about health care needs. Meehan said many of the institution’s students are uninsured because their parents are uninsured.
If JSU president Bill Meehan’s suspicion is right, the survey’s results will show that about half of JSU’s student population has health insurance.
If half of students are uninsured that means that the percentage of uninsured young people is significantly higher at JSU than it is nationwide.
According to the Common Wealth Fund, a private foundation that works to improve heath care services, 27.2 percent of U.S. residents between the ages of 18-24 are uninsured. Americans in that age group are less likely to be insured than any other age group, according to a recent report by the Center for Disease control and prevention.
“This has been one of the more at-risk populations,” Collins said.
The reasons young adults are uninsured vary. A report by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation says young adults have lower levels of education and are more likely to work for small companies that don’t provide insurance.
Historically young adults have been less likely to be insured be cause many become ineligible for Medicaid or coverage under their parents' plans between the ages of 19 and 23. A provision of last year's federal health care reform legislation allows young adults to stay on their parents' insurance until age 26.
The provision is already reducing the number of uninsured young adults, said Sara Collins, vice president of the common Wealth Fund.
Since last year between 500,000 and 1 million young adults who were previously uninsured have acquired medical coverage. The change represents about a 2 percent decline in the number of uninsured Americans between the ages of 19 and 29, she said.
The number of insured JSU students is significant to the trustees like Jones in that it is “part of the puzzle,” that will help members decide how they want to provide medical services to students in the future.
“It would be a factor,” Jones, who is also in the insurance business, said.
As passed, the Affordable Care Act will require all Americans to have health care by 2014. Two additional provisions that are slated to go into effect that same year will make health insurance more affordable for young adults.
The first, an expansion of Medicaid, will extend coverage to about 50 percent of young adults who are currently uninsured, Collins said.
The second will extend tax credits to low-to-moderate income Americans to help them purchase insurance. That provision will reach about 33 percent of America’s young adults, Collins said.
Some universities are opting to shift to systems that allow their students’ health care providers to pay for services, said Stephen Beckley, a consultant who advises universities on how to administer health care services.
Meehan said there are too many unknown variables to determine how such a switch would affect the university’s costs for providing health care. He added that the survey will answer some of the university’s lingering questions about health care needs on campus.
Currently, the university uses about $275,000 a year from its general fund to pay for health services on campus.
Paul Beezley, a JSU assistant professor, was president of the faculty senate for much of the time trustees were considering implementing health care changes on campus. He has been an outspoken critic of the board’s moves, saying it moved to fast without consulting the “stakeholders.”
Beezley remains skeptical of changing the campus health care system. He said any change that would require a greater financial commitment from students, even if it’s only a co-pay, might serve as a barrier to students who need medical care but have little spending money.
Add to that the risk of students spreading illness on a campus and you have a potential public health threat, Beezley said.
“Student health in many ways is supposed to act like Dr. Mom,” Beezley said.
Beezley said he supports the board’s decision to pause for the survey.
“It’s certainly the right first step,” Beezley said. “I have a lot of confidence in the group that is running it … it’s great to have an outside eye come in.”
Contact staff writer Laura Johnson at 256-235-3544.