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Task force recommends mandatory health insurance for international students

A student insurance task force, formed after Wheaton College ended its student health insurance program last July, issued a recommendation during a Student Government meeting on Wednesday, March 23, for Wheaton to establish a mandatory accident and illness health insurance plan for international students beginning in the 2016-2017 academic year.
This recommendation comes on the same day that the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Zubik v. Burwell, a case that has direct implications for Wheaton’s lawsuit — Wheaton College v. Burwell — against provisions in the Affordable Care Act that require religious employers to facilitate the insurance coverage of birth control options that Wheaton says violate their religious beliefs.
Wheaton stopped offering student health care coverage after the seventh circuit court of appeals ruled last July that Wheaton must begin complying with the birth control mandate while awaiting the Supreme Court’s ruling in Zubik v. Burwell.
The new recommendation — which comes from a committee of nine faculty and staff members, two undergraduate students and two graduate students — proposed that all international students attending Wheaton should be required to purchase a selected accident and illness insurance plan. A hardship fund would be established to help students who would face “higher-than-expected” premiums or extra expenses resulting from temporarily overlapping insurance plans.
The recommendation also retains current policies that call for athletes and students studying abroad to offer proof of insurance. Under terms of the recommendation, it would give domestic students — students who are not international students — a “robust education” about insurance options, as well as online resources connecting them with licensed Illinois insurance agents.
Unlike insurance plans for domestic students, which must provide birth control coverage, the IRS has regulated that plans for international students do not need to be in compliance with the Affordable Care Act.
Student body president Josh Fort characterized the task force’s recommendations as “helpful in simplifying the lives of students.”
By attempting to provide coverage to international students, the recommendations partially address the concerns of students like sophomore Katherine Harrison, who, before learning about those recommendations, said that she is “concerned about the international students and other people that I know that don’t have access to healthcare.” The current proposal does not, however, move towards re-establishing health insurance options for domestic students.
If the Supreme Court sides with religious employers in Zubik v. Burwell, associate professor of politics and law and former U.S. attorney David Iglesias said the government “would concede the litigation” in Wheaton College v. Burwell, effectively granting Wheaton exemption from needing to provide the coverage for contraception like Plan B and Ella that it objects to. This is because Zubik v. Burwell raises the same issues as Wheaton College v. Burwell — namely, whether or not religious nonprofits must comply with the federal government’s mandate to facilitate birth control coverage by notifying the government of their religious objections in order to allow the insurance company to process and cover the costs of the birth control.
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), passed by Congress in 1993, holds the government to a higher standard than judicial precedent in situations where the government wants to override religious objections. If the court decides that the government meets this standard, religious nonprofits like Wheaton College would have to abide by the contraceptive mandate when providing health insurance.
Iglesias, who is also the director of the Wheaton College Center for Faith, Politics and Economics, noted a third possibility: With the recent death of Justice Antonin Scalia, the court currently consists of eight members and could deliver a split 4-4 decision. In this event, the lower courts’ rulings would stand. Since these courts have handed down different rulings in their separate districts, the law would be applied unevenly throughout the country and there would be no guiding precedent for Wheaton’s own case. Because a primary role of the Supreme Court is to adjudicate between conflicting rulings, it might instead choose to postpone their ruling until the case can be heard again once a new justice is appointed.
The court’s decision is expected in June.
To assist students affected by Wheaton’s unexpected health care reversal last July, a benevolence fund was established that assisted five students with a total of $2,543. According to director of financial aid and interim controller Karen Belling, these funds were “sufficient to fully cover” the difference between what each of the five students, who met eligibility requirements, would have paid under Wheaton’s prior insurance plan compared to the cost of one year under a comparable plan.
Fort encouraged anyone who has additional concerns to reach out to Chelsen or himself.

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