University study shows many community college students unaware of Affordable Care Act

By Alex Swanson

Shon Campbell, a nontraditional freshman at Parkland College, feels like many of his peers don’t fully understand the change to their health care plans brought on by the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.

Campbell, 28, is studying to become a licensed practical nurse and works with the Wellness Center on campus. 

“A lot of the students that come here are fresh out of high school, and they have not yet been educated about (Obamacare),” Campbell said.

Campbell thinks the confusion over their health care benefits could be a problem for students if their health suddenly declines. 

A study to be published by 10 researchers from the university’s Urbana-Champaign and Chicago campuses provides statistical evidence that many community college students aren’t aware of how the change in health care affects them.

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The study results show around 20 percent of surveyed students were in favor of the ACA, 48 percent were against it and 32 percent had no opinion.

Laura Payne, co-author of the study and associate professor in sports, recreation and tourism, was surprised by the depth of confusion felt by community college students. Payne also serves as a member of Extension, an educational program within the College of ACES, which helped fund the study. 

“I guess we were a little surprised at the extent of the confusion and the lack of knowledge that a lot of our survey participants expressed through their answers,” Payne said. 

The survey had participants from six Illinois community colleges: John Wood, Kankakee, Kaskaskia, Lakeland, Lewis & Clark and Rend Lake.  

Payne said community colleges usually have a very diverse student population because they have many students entering from high school, as well as adult students returning to further their education. The survey sample was 75 percent female and 88 percent white.

Payne said that the team chose to study community college students because the ACA relies on young people, under the eligible age for Medicare, to sign up.

Additionally, Payne commented that community college students frequently take their health for granted and assume they will stay in good health.

“Young adults happen to be one of those groups who happen to have bulletproof vest syndrome,” Payne said. 

Campbell agreed, adding that part of the problem is that many students do not consider health care coverage an immediate need.

“They really don’t see their health declining,” Campbell said. “They look at that as someone being old.”

Campbell feels more could be done on a federal level, as well as on his campus, to help students understand the ACA.

“I think the government could do more as far as making teenagers and young adults aware,” he said. 

Additionally, he commented that the Wellness Center at Parkland could find methods to distribute information about health care to students in more effective ways.

Payne added that community colleges typically do not offer their students health insurance in the same capacity as traditional four-year universities.

While the Parkland College Wellness Center is a center for health-related information and referrals, it does not administer health services, as the University’s McKinley Health Center does.

Researchers found that about 18 percent of the surveyed students did not have health care, while 50 percent of students had not seen or heard any messages about health care reform.

Julian Reif, co-author of the study and assistant professor of finance and economics, feels this problem extends beyond community college students.

“The confusion is not limited to community college students,” Reif said. “It’s a general statement one could say about the public at large.”

This year, the team is planning to investigate how to provide students with information about health care. 

The team will use different forms of communication for different campuses and compare the success rates. The communication forms include face-to-face communication, traditional media and social media.

Payne testified to the importance of the implementation of the ACA, as it is indicative of a shift in the theory behind the country’s health care system. Instead of focusing on immediate care for the sick, the country will be working on general wellness and sickness prevention.

“The general public does not understand this bigger step, this bigger paradigm shift that the government is taking the lead on — you know shifting our health care system to this prevention and wellness model,” Payne said. “So, it is really important; we’ve needed to do this for a long time.” 

Alex can be reached at [email protected].

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article incorrectly spelled Shon Campbell’s name as Seon Campbell. The Daily Illini regrets the error.