Campus: Humboldt State University -- May 16, 2005

President Upholds Health Fee

Humboldt State University President Rollin Richmond has upheld the $44 health fee defeated in a recent campus vote to avoid forcing students to bear much more expensive and far slower medical services in the clogged private sector.

Students stood to lose immunizations, psychiatric services, and sports and travel physicals in the wake of the vote, according to Dr. Rebecca Stauffer, director of the university’s Student Health Center. The facility would have ceased operating at full hours five days a week, causing the same prolonged waits and delayed treatment that afflict United States health care nationwide.

Richmond said that absent the $44.00 health fee per semester that now will take effect from Fall 2005, students would have suffered a double setback: they would have lost thrifty, timely, and necessary medical services on campus, while simultaneously becoming more dependent on high-cost urgent care and hospital services off-campus. Ballooning inflation in the national health care sector expands consistently at a double-digit pace each year, far faster than the general inflation rate of several percentage points annually in the economy at large.

“There would be an increase in student illness resulting in academic failure,” Richmond admonished. “Students would not be able to be immunized on-campus, and therefore would not be able to register for classes. And students with serious illness seeking specialty care would be forced to wait for referrals or [suffer] delayed [access to] care” for dangerously prolonged periods.

The Student Health Center has not had a rate increase since 1998—seven years. Costs have climbed in that period about 5.5% annually. The rate was not adjusted for the effects of inflation, reducing the center’s buying power. Dr. Stauffer estimated that, at a minimum, the fee would have to be doubled today to $88.00 if center funding were to be restored to its 1998 level.

Richmond said the double blow to students would have been particularly harsh in Humboldt County, because the North Coast’s medical system is strained well past its limit. “Our remote rural area and the lack of community health services, along with the absence of local HMOs, account for much of the heavy student demand for on-campus health services,” he noted.

HSU is an isolated residential campus. Consequently, the school’s health center has the highest per capita use rate of the 23 campuses in the California State University system. More than 5,000 students visit HSU’s health center each year. Heavy demand is coupled with high satisfaction: a benchmarking CSU health survey showed that Humboldt State’s facility had the best satisfaction ratings among participating campuses.

Dr. Stauffer said the $44 fee per semester is projected to rise 2-5% annually, based on a national standard known as the Higher Education Price Index. The first annual adjustment at HSU will occur in Fall 2006.

Hard hit by successive cuts in state aid, the health center would have been forced to cut basic services if the verdict at the polls had been allowed to stand. Students rejected the fee by a thin 66-vote margin, 427-361. Turnout on the measure was less than 14%.

Richmond expressed reluctance to shelve the results from the ballot box, but said that in view of the close vote and unusually heavy student use of the center, he decided he must intervene.

“In a recent week,” he noted, “a few students came to the health center and were diagnosed as having new cancers. A delay in service for situations like this can be catastrophic.”

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