"Higher Education, Lower Standards" by Aaron Marden

This article is more than 12 years old.

The Massachusetts health reform law has successfully expanded access to quality insurance at affordable rates for hundreds of thousands of residents. Yet, one group has been categorically excluded from the benefits of Massachusetts health reform: university students. Since 1989, university students have been required by law to purchase health insurance under the Qualifying Student Health Insurance Program (QSHIP), Massachusetts’ first individual mandate. Students who do not have health insurance through their parents are offered a plan through their university that is a cheaper alternative to other plans on the individual market.

Many Massachusetts universities—including Tufts University, where I am a student —have excellent on-campus health services that allow students to access excellent primary and preventative care. Nevertheless, the major medical coverage under the QSHIP plans offered by most schools is outrageously poor. These plans can include annual per illness or injury coverage caps as low as $50,000, as well as $1,000 - $1500 internal benefit caps for services such as high-cost surgeries, out-patient or in-patient care, and miscellaneous expenses.

The Student Health Insurance Project (SHIP) is uniting current and former students from across Massachusetts to fight for better student health insurance. Our goal is simple: provide students who are income-eligible Massachusetts residents with the same high quality affordability insurance that other residents receive under the new subsidized Commonwealth Care plans, and require that QSHIP plans meet the Commonwealth’s minimum coverage standards set by the Connector Board. We want to ensure that Massachusetts students are no longer forced to buy sub-prime health insurance.

This summer, SHIP leaders have spoken with dozens of Massachusetts students who have had bad experiences with their QSHIP plans. We met one student who is sometimes forced to choose between taking her depression and migraine medications because of a cap on prescriptions coverage. Another student will face a huge medical debt if she gets the life-saving surgery that she needs because her insurance will only pay up to $50,000. A third student tore his ACL and was forced to walk around crippled for months because he couldn’t afford the out-of-pocket expenses for surgery. A fourth student delayed care because he didn’t want to accumulate $1000 in unaffordable out-of-pocket costs. Unfortunately, the students that we have encountered only represent a fraction of those who are suffering from health access and financial problems caused by inadequate coverage under QSHIP plans.

SHIP leaders are in the process of recruiting new student members and meeting with the university administrators who choose their school’s QSHIP plans. In the coming months, we plan to meet with state agencies and key legislators to voice our concerns.

I urge any current or former students who have a QSHIP story to post a comment on this blog or contact me directly at

Aaron Marden
Tufts University, Class of 2009
Lead Organizer, The Student Health Insurance Project

This program aired on August 22, 2008. The audio for this program is not available.