The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

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Students without healthcare

Being left with no choice but to wear a halo brace for three months was not on Mary Ann Yezadzhyan’s mind when she was driving on Victory Boulevard headed towards CSUN.

She was driving to school to go to the Oviatt library to do research for a paper, when her car was struck and the consequences of having no health insurance coverage became quickly apparent.

The metal brace was attached from her forehead all the way down to her chest with a plastic jacket wrap around to keep it in place.

‘It just feels like your life stops and you are watching everyone around you living their life but you can’t do anything about it,’ she said.

Yezadzhyan, 22, had a broken neck and was in the hospital for three days. There were nights when her halo’s screws detached and her parents had to take her to the emergency room to screw them back in, she said.

At the time of the accident she was 20 and in her second semester at CSUN studying health administration.

The irony being that she was in a major where students are informed about health insurance and its benefits, when she herself was uninsured.

A reality that Louis Rubino, an associate professor in health administration, says 1.5 million college students are facing today. Either they don’t qualify for insurance at their jobs or can’t afford to pay for it. And now with the economic downturn, earning enough money to receive health care benefits seems uncertain.

In 2007 Yezadzhyan was working part time at Bank of America and they only offered health insurance for employees working full time, she said.

‘I couldn’t become a full time employee because I was a student and there wasn’t enough time for me to go to school,’ said Yezadzhyan.

Her father owns a small business and her mother’s job didn’t provide health insurance at all, therefore she had no way of receiving health care through her parents, she added.

‘I knew I should have it and my mom would always say do it,’ said Yezadzhyan. ‘But I always put it behind my ear and I never got to it and it was kind of bad on my part.’

Since she had no health insurance at the time of the car accident, her hospital bills ran up to $30,000.

‘You don’t really realize that something like that can happen to you and you are going to wind up in so much debt,’ she said.

‘Young people sometimes feel invincible, they haven’t gotten sick and they don’t feel they’re going to get sick,’ said Rubino.

As many as 10 percent of college students and 30 percent of young adults are uninsured in the nation, added Rubino.

‘Now it’s harder and harder for students that age to not only get a job but also get a job that provides the insurance,’ said Rubino.

‘More and more businesses, because of the fact there is this economic crisis, are not offering insurance to people that are not working full time and there is no law that will prohibit them of doing this,’ said Rubino.

And if they do offer health insurance, the employers are pushing the cost to the employees so the company pays less money and the employee pays higher co-payments or deductibles, said Rubino.

The students Rubino talks about are usually similar to Yezadzhyan and Xenia Torres, 21, also a health administration major who has no health insurance.

Torres has met Yezadzhyan and knows her story, but her financial status has not allowed her to even consider exploring health plans.

In high school Torres suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament after a soccer game. At the time she had accidental insurance and it covered most of the physical therapy she went through, she said.

When Torres entered CSUN four years ago, she had no health insurance but when it came she had a cold or got regular check-ups she went to the Klotz student health center, she said.

‘I’ve been to the health center to use the dental services,’ said Torres. ‘I used their chiropractic services, it’s really convenient, and I use their family pact program.’

Rubino also notices how students like Torres take advantage of the health services.

‘I know we have students on campus taking the minimum units to get health insurance or use our student health center, but it shouldn’t be that way, the government should be providing health insurance for everyone,’ said Rubino.

In September 2008, Torres found out she had a minor heart murmur and suffers from high blood pressure. The extra exams for both conditions are not covered at the student health center.
She was only able to receive a free echocardiogram and was then referred to the Olive View Center, which she couldn’t afford, Torres said.

‘I was like crap, I have to get my act together,’ she said. ‘I need to get health insurance. It’s my major, I should have health insurance, and we do this program called SHOUT and so I feel like a hypocrite trying to bring awareness of the uninsured.’

Student Health Outreach to Uninsured Teens, Twenties and Thirty Somethings (SHOUT) is a program administered by three professors, Rubino, Wanda Carole Shepherd and Frankie Augustin.

Students choose their own classes or their friends’ classrooms and give a SHOUT presentation on different ways they can receive health insurance, Rubino said.

In Torres’ case, even though she doesn’t have insurance, she is able to use her case as an example when she goes to classes with SHOUT.

Torres’ mother is unable to help her because she doesn’t have a job and her step dad cannot claim her as his dependent either, she said.

‘It’s stressful, I hear it everyday in class, it’s major topic in all my classes. I think about it everyday,’ Torres said.

‘I wish I could work more hours, but I am too busy with school and this summer I won’t have a job because that job is only when the semester is in session,’ Torres said.

Unlike Yezadzhyan, Torres lives on her own which makes it more difficult to pay for health insurance. The money Torres receives from her work-study pays for her electricity, cable, gas, rent and other bills instead.

Torres even took out two loans, a total of $4,500 for this academic year because she couldn’t pay her bills with only her income, but even then she couldn’t apply for a health plan, she said.

‘It’s not that I don’t want her back, but she needs to grow up and be independent,’ said Maggie Godinez, Torres’ mother.

Godinez tried looking for health insurance for her daughter and her family but it was $400 to $500 a month, money she could use to buy food for a month instead, she said.

Now with the economic downturn, Godinez sees how getting health insurance is practically out of the question.

‘It’s been affecting us since last year, it’s getting worse right now. I am not even thinking about health insurance, sometimes you worry so much, you stop thinking about it,’ Godinez said.

The same seems true for her daughter, even though Torres knows she needs it because of her condition.

‘I think I’ve just learned how to ignore it. I always think it won’t happen to me but I know it could, it’s just scary because if it does, it’s a huge burden not only to me but my family,’ she said.

The first step for Torres is to get an MRI to find out how critical her heart murmur is, but as her mother said, it costs about $700, money they simply don’t have.

Yezadzhyan had not turned 21 at the time of her accident, so she qualified for Medi-Cal and they paid her bills until she reached the age limit, she said.

‘The accident wasn’t my fault so I didn’t receive the bills, everything was actually paid through the insurance,’ Yezadzhyan said. ‘But if the accident was my fault, I would of ended up paying most of it.’

Even
though she has a paid internship, it doesn’t provide health insurance, so in order to not pay her balance in full, she had to find private insurance.

She opted to enroll in Blue Cross about six months ago where she has a $1000 deductible and only pays $116 a month.

‘My insurance is a little bit more expensive than what it would be because I have a preexisting condition,’ Yezadzhyan said. ‘Usually with my age it would be $70 a month.’

The amount also depends on what area the person lives in, for example their zip code, their age, and the plan they end up choosing, said Rubino.

Yezadzhyan is now president of the Health Administration Student Association (HASA) on campus and tries to bring awareness to her peers.

While Torres knows she won’t have health insurance until she graduates and finds a job that will grant her coverage, she sees her experience as a part of life.’

‘It’s just part of the whole growing up thing, and I know eventually I’ll have health insurance, but it’s just something for me that it’ll happen when it’s time,’ said Torres.
‘Everyone has a different situation and there’s nearly 47 million that are uninsured and I hate to be a statistic, but I am and realized that I do feel the guilt,’ reflected Torres.

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