Most universities require their students to carry some kind of health coverage, meeting whatever standard the university requires. They’re allowed to set adequate (which they’re allowed to define) coverage as a condition of enrollment, and they are allowed to sell their own insurance to students, with certain carve-outs from the general requirements of the Affordable Care Act.

Most colleges don’t have any information about their insurance requirements publicly visible to applicants. This makes it an unexpected expense in enrollment, usually disclosed after significant money has been invested.

In the way Brigham Young University-Idaho (BYU-Idaho) had originally decided to handle its health insurance requirements, it seemed that the university saw medical insurance as another profit avenue. The school had barred students from using Medicaid to meet the school’s requirements for health coverage. But after two weeks of student protests and a petition asking the school to change its mind, the school’s administration reversed its decision.

The school’s original health insurance alternative—to insure through university-offered health plans—would have cost $1,072 a year for students and $4,260 a year for families, for a policy that does not meet the standards of the Affordable Care Act, thus forcing those students to still also be on Medicaid or self-insure. The plan also had a deductible of nearly $5,000 and didn’t cover sexual health, including birth control or STD testing; mental health care; care related to transplants; or gender confirmation treatment.

Why was BYU set on forcing its poorest students into this inadequate situation? For two reasons. First, BYU-Idaho officials objected to the ACA’s requirement of sexual health coverage and are taking advantage of a carve-out in the law for universities that self-insure. Second, any student insuring via the university will be paying their premiums to Deseret Mutual Benefits Administration. Deseret MBA and all of the Brigham Young Universities are owned directly by their patron, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as the Mormons.

The excuse the BYU-Idaho originally gave for refusing to allow Medicaid coverage was that “it would be impractical for the local medical community and infrastructure to support them with only Medicaid coverage,” as the school said in an email.

When doctors and hospitals in the area countered this argument by saying that the hospital and its affiliated clinics are ready for the expected surge of Medicaid patients, and 20 other clinics in Rexburg, Idaho (where BYU-Idaho is located) told the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare that they’re accepting new Medicaid patients, that excuse went out the window.

Needless to say, there was a lot of celebrating among students on late Monday, when a new email came out saying BYU-Idaho would allow students to use Medicaid for their required health insurance. “We apologize for the turmoil caused by our earlier decision,” the statement said.

Photo: The Brigham Young University-Idaho campus. Credit: Shutterstock