CHAPEL HILL — Public university students enrolled in a new UNC system health insurance plan can opt out of abortion coverage.
Though the plan covers the procedure, UNC system officials said Thursday that it can be removed from student plans on request. The decision followed complaints from followers of a national anti-abortion organization that didn't want students forced to fund them.
"No student will be required to have this coverage as part of their health care plan, nor will they be paying for anybody else," UNC President Erskine Bowles said Thursday.
Students who choose not to have the abortion coverage won't save any money. The coverage wasn't a factor in the cost of the health care premiums, which are about $350 to $375 per semester, depending on the campus.
"It has no effect on the cost whatsoever," Bowles said. "It didn't before; it won't now."
Bowles' decision came after he and members of the UNC system's Board of Governors received e-mail pleas that were prompted by Students for Life of America, a national organization with affiliates at UNC-Chapel Hill, N.C. State, UNC Charlotte and other universities across the state.
"I think the opt-out [option] is a step in the right direction, but it's not a solution," said Kristan Hawkins, the national organization's executive director. "I don't want anyone to have abortion coverage. Abortion is not quality health care."
Students at UNC system schools are not required to buy health insurance from the system, but, as of this fall, they must have insurance. Before, 11 of 16 campuses required students to have health insurance.
About 90,000 of more than 200,000 eligible students have thus far opted out of the university's health plan by proving they have other insurance, said Joni Worthington, a UNC system spokeswoman. That means that more than half of eligible students are on the UNC plan.
Under the UNC system plan, students would pay up to about $750 a year for at least $100,000 of coverage with a deductible no higher than $300. That means insurance costs would increase a bit for students at many campuses, but premiums would drop for students at UNC-CH, NCSU and five others. And, the overall benefits package would improve, officials say.
For example, until this year, students at Elizabeth City State University were required to pay $456 a year for health insurance, with a $6,000 maximum benefit. Under the UNC system plan, an ECSU student's premium would rise about $250 a year, and the maximum benefit would rise to $100,000.
Until now, NCSU didn't require students to have insurance but offered it annually for $1,161, with a $100,000 maximum benefit. So NCSU students who buy the coverage now save about $400 a year through the UNC system plan.
All students will be notified soon via e-mail that they can opt out of the abortion coverage. Sarah Hardin, president of NCSU Students for Life, dislikes that students must go out of their way to get out of the coverage.
"If there's a pro-life student who misses that e-mail, they'll pay in to an abortion pool?" said Hardin, a senior from Cary. "That's just raising a red flag to me that students could be automatically enrolled to something that they have a moral objection to."
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