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Why Unintended Consequences Matter: One Student’s Story

Sometimes, seemingly good ideas have unintended consequences. And the side effects of bad policies aren’t abstract; they can actually have a direct impact on individuals like you and me.

Let’s take Marta Blanco-Castano’s story as an example of how one policy—that was supposed to help students—has made it nearly impossible for several individuals to afford college.

Marta Blanco-Castano is an undergraduate student at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs (UCCS). As a geography and environmental studies major with a triple minor, she knows that getting a college degree isn’t cheap or easy.

To make ends meet while earning her degree, she has been working for over thirty hours per week in the IT department at the University of Colorado, taking her classes on evenings and weekends.

Blanco-Castano’s campus job pays well, is good work experience, and affords her flexibility with her school schedule. She is a hard worker and recently received a promotion (although it was not accompanied by a raise).

As of July 1, however, UCCS capped all employee hours at twenty-five hours per week, since the Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires the school to provide health insurance to all full-time employees. Doing so would be very expensive for the school, so UCCS is understandably reducing all workers to part-time status.

That’s bad news for a lot of students.

“The ACA is a prime example of how well-intentioned ideas can have a damaging impact on individuals.”

“I’m going to have to take (fewer) classes, work less, (and) find another job. It’s making everything worse,” said Blanco-Castano.

Blanco-Castano has no need for the healthcare plan that the ACA would require UCCS to provide, as she is still covered under her father’s health insurance. What she—along with many other students—really needs are more hours of work so that she can afford her degree.

“A lot of us don’t have rich parents…. We’re not just doing this as a hobby. We literally need the money to survive,” she said. “I wish that I could get the full-time hours and waive the health coverage, but that isn’t even an option.”

Because UCCS is cutting student hours, Blanco-Castano has to look for work outside the UCCS campus. Her options range from waitressing to washing windows to selling blood plasma. Not only is she far from excited about these opportunities, she is not looking forward to fitting off-campus jobs into her demanding and fluctuating schedule.

The Affordable Care Act was supposed to make the lives of students like Marta Blanco-Castano easier. Instead, by fitting them into a one-size-fits-all plan that cannot possibly be tailored to the actual needs of individuals, it has taken away the ability for many to support themselves while in school.

Marta and other students in her department are upset that “students are forced to take less hours because of a plan that they didn’t have the option to say they didn’t want. There’s an inability to have the choice to work more.” For students trying to make ends meet, this is a death-blow.

Now, instead of getting valuable work experience and flexible hours on their campuses, they have to take inflexible, low-paying jobs—or do things like sell their blood plasma—to get the education that they need attain their dreams. So much for opportunity.

The new policy will affect 43 graduates at UCCS, and countless other young people throughout Colorado and the nation. As Castano says, “[Our elected officials] should consider that we’re the future; we’re the ones who are young now…it would be nice if they would reconsider…and put a little more thought in about the backbone of the workforce.”

The Affordable Care Act is a prime example of how the well-intentioned ideas of a few elites can have a damaging impact on individuals who just want to achieve the American Dream.

Ultimately, Blanco-Castano is going to make it through college—despite the difficulties that she’s going to face in getting around the ACA. But my heart goes out to those who simply don’t have the resources to do the same.

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