RALEIGH — A new policy that requires students enrolled in the University of North Carolina system to purchase health insurance also forces them to pay for abortion coverage if they use the university’s plan, a development that’s upsetting pro-life groups.
The UNC Board of Governors approved the revised plan for the system’s 16 campuses in August 2009 (PDF version). It mandates that students who aren’t covered by another plan, such as through a parent or employer, purchase coverage through the South Carolina firm Pearce & Pearce.
Students must shell out $361.50 in premiums each semester. Those who can’t afford the insurance can get the coverage free under their school’s financial aid program.
Pro-life students object to a component of the plan that covers elective abortions — those deemed medically unnecessary — up to $500 for each procedure, with a 20 percent deductible for in-network providers.
“I’m dismayed that my classmates who cannot afford their own health coverage or who are not covered by their families will not only be forced to purchase health insurance, but they will also be forced to pay into a pool that will go to abortion the children of North Carolina students,” said Sarah Hardin, president of North Carolina State University’s chapter of Students for Life, in a prepared statement.
The health insurance mandate applies to students enrolled in UNC system colleges and universities provided they are taking six or more credit hours as undergraduates (or one hour for graduate students), are degree-seeking, and are eligible to pay the student health fee. The UNC system is state-run and taxpayer-funded.
While the Board of Governors weighed the mandated system last year, Congress was embroiled in a similar debate over President Barack Obama’s health care reform package. The final version, approved by Congress in March, penalizes Americans who don’t buy health insurance.
During their August recess, many lawmakers faced scorn at local town hall meetings over the health care overhaul from Americans concerned that it gives too much power to the federal government. Many opponents also feared that the new health care mandates would funnel taxpayer dollars to abortion.
Joni B. Worthington, UNC Vice President for Communications, said in an e-mail to Carolina Journal that students don’t have to buy the university plan that includes abortion coverage, but can buy their own that does not include elective abortion coverage. But they must have insurance of some kind, she said.
“No student is required to buy the University-sponsored plan; in fact, to date more than 90,000 students have elected not to purchase the University plan,” she said. “What our students are required to do is have a health insurance plan that provides creditable health care coverage. Any student may choose to purchase health insurance elsewhere that does not provide elective abortion coverage. Our sole concern is that our students all have affordable, high-quality health care coverage.”
Republican U.S. Sens. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Orrin Hatch of Utah recently introduced legislation that would exclude elective abortion coverage from the health care reform law. Lawmakers introduced a companion bill in the House in April. Neither has been voted on.
“I hope that the North Carolina Board of Governor’s will hear the voices of pro-life students across North Carolina as we ask him to reconsider this coverage,” Hardin said. “We want to be offered an option that will not make us an unwilling part of the abortions of future North Carolina students.”
David N. Bass is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.