COCC task force tackles student healthcare concerns
Recently gathered information about the future of campus healthcare may no longer be valid with coming of the Affordable Care Act. Following studies that started as early as 2012, the Central Oregon Community College Student Healthcare Task Force released the results of their work to the public this February.
The bulk of the research was on future campus student healthcare options, according to Paul Wheeler, the director of Residence Life and an administrative representative on the task force.
“A lot of what we did on the task force was the information-gathering,” Wheeler said, “trying to figure out what was out there in the state of Oregon. Just looking at what other colleges do, what options are available for bringing health care services either to campus or bringing students to health care services that already exist in the community.”
The task force conducted a survey in the summer of 2012 that found 75.7 percent of COCC students viewed student healthcare as a concern, and 25.5 percent of the respondents viewed a “limited or lack of affordable or reliable health care” as a major hindrance to enjoying college.
The task force found four potential options to address healthcare concerns. The first option would provide an on-campus clinic for students, allowing them to address needs while at COCC. The second option would give COCC students vouchers for off-campus clinics. The third option discussed would keep COCC at more of a hands-off approach, providing information on benefits through the Affordable Care Act. Lastly, the fourth option would implement no changes, keeping COCC at its current status of no services provided.
The first option, a choice to put in a healthcare clinic, has been tried at Lane County Community College. The college put in a healthcare clinic through student fees, which has been successfully in operation for over 20 years. However, the existence of the healthcare clinic on-campus may correlate with LCC’s ranking as having one of the highest community college tuition rates in the state.
Overall, community colleges in Oregon with on-campus healthcare services are a rarity, according to Wheeler.
“Most other community colleges have a statement to some effect about health care services on their webpage, but usually they don’t provide it or they don’t provide health insurance,” Wheeler said. “Students are recommended to get their own health insurance at their own expense.”
While student healthcare was seen as a large student concern at COCC in 2012, other changes are afoot. With the rise of the Affordable Care Act, the study may already have outdated itself, according to Alicia Moore, the dean of students and Enrollment Services for COCC.
“It’s only two and a half years since that survey, but in that time health care in Oregon and the United States has changed dramatically,” Moore said. “I’d like to take another six months, let all the services work out a lot of their kinks that they have, and then do a survey like that again to see if this is as pressing of a need or if national reform has positively impacted these numbers.”
When the task force started discussing student healthcare concerns in 2012, the range of available healthcare was still limited. Now, as the Affordable Care Act is making health coverage mandatory for employees working 30 hours or more a week, student concerns may be diminishing. Students should see more healthcare options in the near future, according to Moore.
“Before we make a decision we need to take this information, step back and look at the new healthcare laws, and then make an even more informed decision,” Moore said. “We may need to pause and look at is healthcare as inaccessible to students as it used to be? Or have the new changes in health care regulations changed that?”
Meanwhile, a setback to implementing task force suggestions is a lack of available money, according to Moore.
“I think one of the biggest challenges from an administrative standpoint is that we have a lot of student needs,” Moore said. “Do we put money towards healthcare? Do we put money towards childcare? Do we put money toward veteran services? Do we put money towards academic advising, new faculty, buildings? It’s just hard to find the balance.”
Until the campus finds that balance, the report from the Healthcare Task Force might be gathering dust in the background, according to Wheeler.
“Our drive was never to come out of this with ‘this is what COCC must do,'” Wheeler said.
The task force might help with future initiation if COCC can provide the funds, according to Moore.
“Now we have the information we need to be able to make a decision,” Moore said. “[The report] is there if we come to a place where we could financially afford something.”