By Madison Heiser
Graphic by Molly Swisher
I am uninsured. A few weeks ago, on a Friday night after the school clinic closed for the weekend, I faced an unprecedented medical issue that couldn’t wait to be addressed. I called my friend to take me to the local urgent care clinic, where the doctor ran a few tests and sent me off with an antibiotic. For a 15-minute visit without insurance, I was billed $360.
This is an all-too-common occurrence for college students whose financial situations make it difficult, or even impossible, to obtain health insurance. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit organization focused on national health issues, uninsured individuals paid an average of $752 out of pocket for medical services in 2014, compared to $236 in expenses for individuals with public health coverage. Additionally, hospitals and other medical service providers charge uninsured patients at higher costs, placing them at further risk for financial strain and medical debt.
According to PayScale, the average rent in Tyler is $871 a month, and the average phone bill is $207 a month. For a student working part time at minimum wage, even with roommates, the cost of living is high enough. Under these conditions, most students cannot afford private health insurance and cannot purchase coverage through their part-time employers. So, when an unprecedented medical bill hits, it can be devastating.
Tyler Junior College has provided limited health care options for its students, but these services only include a small array of treatment and testing procedures.
“TJC students have access to the TJC clinic located in the Rogers Nursing and Health Sciences Center,” said Rebecca Sanders, director of public affairs and media relations at TJC. “The on-campus clinic is staffed by UT Health East Texas, and services are funded by student health fees.” The student health fee is $35 per semester and pays for health care and counseling services on campus.
According to the TJC clinic website, these services include some diagnostic and testing procedures, immunizations and treatment for minor injuries and illnesses. However, in the event of an emergency, students may only rely on potentially unavailable private health insurance and personal income to pay for their expenses. According to the Health Care Cost Institute, the average emergency room visit in 2017 cost $1,389.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, access to health services is more important than ever. Not only are college students a financially vulnerable demographic but attending in-person classes also makes us physically vulnerable to the spread of viruses. Since the fall semester began on Aug. 24, TJC has reported 112 positive COVID-19 cases on campus, according to the Clery Reports on TJC’s website. Students are still getting sick, but our access to health care has not changed.
Although TJC is ahead of most Texas community colleges by offering an on-campus clinic for students, the college’s administration should take a moment to look deeply into the health care needs of students and make an effort to revamp its offerings to better accommodate students. TJC could set the precedent for other community colleges by prioritizing the wellness of its students, especially since it has gone to such great lengths to safely allow students back into the classroom.
Although TJC may not be able to allocate the funding necessary to offer student health insurance or extensive treatment options, TJC’s administration could benefit greatly from the consideration of feedback from students in regard to the lack of health care services available to the student body. It may be more financially viable for the school to update its partnership with UT Health to expand the health care services available to students, but students’ needs and opinions should be considered to make the best decisions possible for our health and safety.
TJC professes both unity and caring within its core values. Directly addressing the needs of its students and finding the best possible solution to their deepest concerns is the duty of the school. With the health and well-being of students in question, it is time for TJC to step up to the plate and better aid students in meeting their fundamental needs.