Understanding health care choices in light of the Affordable Care Act

Dr. Ira Friedman answers questions for parents about Stanford health-care options, especially in light of the Affordable Care Act.

What new choices has the Affordable Care Act presented students and their parents since its implementation?

The big change occurred in 2012 when the ACA mandated dependent coverage under parents’ employer plans until age 26. Now, 69 percent of our undergraduates are covered by their parents’ plans, and it seems to be serving them well. However, with employer plans becoming more expensive, parents may shift to high-deductible plans, plans with limited out-of-area coverage and plans with restrictive provider networks. Students covered by these plans while away at school could experience greater barriers to getting necessary primary medical, specialist and mental health care.

How does Stanford’s Cardinal Care compare to alternative choices now made possible by ACA and to employer insurance carried by many parents?

Stanford’s Cardinal Care is a top-rung “platinum” plan, meaning it is very comprehensive in its coverage of medical expenses. In addition, the Cardinal Care provider network is strong locally (including Stanford University Medical Center) and throughout the U.S. It is particularly good at covering our students who are studying, doing research and traveling overseas.

What percentage of Stanford undergraduates choose Cardinal Care?

Around 27 percent of undergraduates are enrolled in Cardinal Care.

Why is it so important for college-age students to have insurance?

We don’t want our students to interrupt their studies or graduate with large medical bills, and we want our students to have full access to treatment and preventive services while they pursue their studies.

Given ACA and other options available to families, why does Stanford charge a campus health fee covering services at Vaden Health Center?

The health fee allows us to maintain a high-quality medical and mental health and counseling center on our campus. Funded only by the students studying on the main campus, it is customized to meet the needs of students and oriented toward easy access to care. To illustrate how it works, recently a female student developed a medical problem late at night, went online, selected an early morning appointment at Vaden Health Center and was treated and on her way to class by 9 a.m.

How can parents and their students learn more about health care choices while at Stanford?

We are just about to publish a new resource. Later this month parents can expect to see our new publication, “Student Health Matters” in their postal mail, email in-box or on the Vaden.stanford.edu website. Let us know if it makes the choices more clear.

What advice do you have for parents?

When choosing a health plan, beware of high-deductible coverage, HMO-style plans and other plans that restrict provider access in the Stanford area. I wouldn’t want students to delay necessary tests, specialist consultations or mental health care due to high out-of-pocket costs or because local providers are excluded.