CalPIRG hosts panel on health care, student aid


Experts spoke at a panel Tuesday night about what the health care reform and student aid bill will actually mean for students, addressing students’ concerns and trying to clear up misconceptions.

Explain away · Vivek Gupta (center) of USC’s Keck School of Medicine helps students understand the effects of the health care bill. - Brandon Hui | Daily Trojan

The forum, hosted by the California Public Interest Research Group, featured panelists Michael Russo, CalPIRG health care advocate and staff attorney; Paresh Dave, a freshman majoring in print journalism; and Harut Hovsepyan and Vivek Gupta of the Keck School of Medicine. Dave is also a staff member at the Daily Trojan.

The panelists spent the hour-long event discussing what changes the reform bill will make and how students will be affected.

“We thought it was very important because there has been a lot of controversy regarding the bill, but one topic of conversation that has been lacking is what the bill is actually doing to help students,” said David Mittelstein, USC CalPIRG health care coordinator and panel moderator.

The panelists discussed ways that health care reform can positively affect students.

“Right now, even though you may not know it, when you hit age 19 or graduate college you can no longer be on your parents’ insurance policy,” Russo said. “But under the bill, insurance companies must let students stay on their parents’ plan [through] the age of 26, so that they don’t end up uninsured.”

Russo pointed out that with the new bill Americans can no longer be denied health insurance because of pre-existing conditions.

The bill will also take away many of the current restrictions on Medicaid and allow wider access to the program.

“They are expecting that in the future, one-third of young people who are uninsured will be able to get Medicaid,” Gupta said.

Students expressed concern about how these changes will affect health care providers.

“What does this mean for doctors? I am pre-med, and I’m wondering if doctors will make the same salaries as in the past,” said Danny Lee, a freshman majoring in biochemistry.

Panelists emphasized, however, that the changes should not drastically affect those employed in the health care field.

“In terms of the overall salary and economics of the medical profession, the bill doesn’t change anything drastically,” Russo said. “It changes how doctors are getting paid, but not necessarily the amounts.”

He said the new system will encourage more doctors to become primary care givers rather than specialists because America currently has an overabundance of specialized doctors and not enough standard physicians.

Students also seemed worried about the negative impact from reform protestors.

Alex Silkin, a freshman majoring in business administration, inquired as to whether the bill can be effective with so much opposition.

Gupta and Russo explained that although some opposition groups plan to take cases to the Supreme Court against the health care bill, they don’t think this is a major concern.

“I don’t think any of the cases would hold up in court,” Russo said. “But this opposition is disheartening and could be threatening to the bill’s public image.”

Panelists also discussed the myriad misconceptions about the bill.

“The opposition says that it’s a fiscally irresponsible bill, which will make costs go up,” Russo said. “But actually, it will cut the budget deficit significantly over the next few decades and also put some downward pressure on insurance premiums.”

Hovsepyan shared another common misunderstanding about the bill.

“Some people think this is a government overhaul of health care,” Hovsepyan said. “But it’s not. The government will regulate it, but the insurers will still be private companies.”

During the second half of the discussion, panelists explained the basics of the Student Financial Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (SAFRA). One of SAFRA’s main provisions is eliminating bank-funded student loans and allowing direct government lending.

Students seemed confused with this new system and whether or not it would change the loan application process, but panelists emphasized that students won’t notice much of a difference.

Students felt that hearing the panelists directly address these common misconceptions was very helpful.

“This discussion definitely clarified some things,” said Buck Mower, a junior majoring in philosophy, politics and law. “I think it’s important that we continue talking about health care reform.”

Yvette Ferrer, the CalPIRG USC chapter chair, agreed.

“It was exceptionally helpful to hear exactly what the bill entailed and also what it meant for medical students,” Ferrer said.

Mittelstein anticipated about 30 to 40 attendees, but attendance was significantly lower. Mittelstein noted, however, that this allowed for more audience participation.

“The people who were here were very interested, and they were able to ask a lot of questions,” Mittelstein said. “I think it went well.”