This blog post was written by Marc Seelinger, a Sarah T. Hermann Intern Scholar at the Reagan Ranch Center
Several days ago, in an otherwise humdrum day for my Gmail account, a most exciting message made its way into my inbox. A message entitled, “Your waiver request has been accepted,” which went on to explain that my private health insurance plan met the standards set forth in the mandate decreed by the University of North Carolina (UNC) Board of Governors.
Starting in Fall 2010, all students in the UNC System will be required to purchase the $723 university health care plan or enroll in a “qualifying” private plan that meets the mandates of the Board of Governors. This is program is not unique to UNC, but UNC’s model does provide an interesting insight into the logic behind these new mandates.
According to the Daily Tar Heel, “Pearce & Pearce will be the only provider offered by the University for the next two years. The lack of other insurance providers might mean less incentive to do a top-notch job. Competition provides incentive to meet the needs of customers.” Competition does indeed incentivize companies to provide better products and services. However, competition only works if the buyer and seller of the product are able to enter into the contract voluntarily, which is certainly not true in this case. As students are being required to purchase these insurance plans, this exchange is about as voluntary as the exchange that occurs between a person walking down the street and the person who mugs him. There is only one party (i.e. UNC) that’s really interested in making the exchange. The other party to the transaction (i.e. UNC students) doesn’t really have a choice in the matter. Much in the same way as the mugged person is presented with the option of “Give me your wallet or I’ll kill you,” so are UNC students presented with the option of “Buy my health plan or we’ll expel you.”
The Daily Tar Heel also makes another interesting observation. “UNC administrators have said they want to protect students from going into debt from medical bills. Many students new to managing their own finances could probably use the help.” Disregarding the fact that forcing students to spend more is not likely to decrease their debt load, I am curious. Where was this concern for the debt load of students when the administration decided to increase tuition by 5.2% this year? You’ll also have to excuse me if I’m somewhat reluctant to ask for help “managing [my] finances” from a state that, in one year, has managed to spend $3 billion more than it has. One also has to wonder how the first 221 years of UNC students were able to survive without the all-knowing, all-seeing, all-caring Board of Governors looking out for them.
Article IX, Section 9 of the North Carolina Constitution states, “The General Assembly shall provide that the benefits of The University of North Carolina and other public institutions of higher education, as far as practicable, be extended to the people of the State free of expense.” So, what practical purpose does this mandate serve? What correlation is there between education and health insurance? Why is the state requiring the purchase of health insurance over and against the purchase of things more directly related to education, like textbooks or a good backpack? Perhaps flooding the insurance pool with thousands of young, healthy college students would lower costs for faculty and staff who just happen to be on the same plan? Or are the motives more sinister and aimed at making college students more comfortable with government control over some of the more critical areas of life? Whatever the motives, the Board of Governors’ mandate is both unnecessary and unwarranted and robs students of a choice that is rightfully theirs.