Drexel student: Toss the health insurance mandate

    A Philadelphia graduate student is getting notice for her health policy ideas–even before she gets her degree.

    Leah Guinn nabbed first place in a national essay contest for public health students sponsored by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Each student wrote to a member of Congress and offered next steps for the federal health law.

    Beginning in 2014, the law requires nearly all Americans to buy insurance; Guinn has an alternative to that mandate.

    She says the government should establish “opt-out” health insurance. All Americans would be enrolled automatically into a health plan with a chance to leave.

    “The opt-out option is kind of taking advantage of people’s “laziness” to not take the action to opt out of the health insurance, or to just be happy with the insurance that they are already opted into,” Guinn said.

    The insurance mandate is so unpopular Guinn says the provision could sink the rest of the health law. Her idea was inspired by researchers and behavior economists who say it’s possible to set policies that nudge Americans toward healthier choices.

    “Maybe it could be done at the DMV, so that you would be automatically enrolled there. But there would be a lot of hard-to-reach populations, who would still be hard to reach, so it would not be a full-proof method,” Guinn said.

    University of Pennsylvania health economist Mark Pauly looked over Guinn’s essay and said it’s a sound idea, but it would be better to auto-enroll Americans and keep the insurance mandate.

    Guinn agrees. “Any alternative might be easier to swallow, but it’s not going to be as effective,” she said. Guinn said, personally, she thinks the insurance mandate is the best way to get more people signed up for health care.

    Guinn, who is from Columbus, Ohio, sent her recommendation to Congresswoman Marcia Fudge. No word from the congresswoman yet; at Drexel, Guinn earned an “A” for the essay.

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