The 411 on Student Health Insurance

By on August 9, 2018

As you prepare to head off to college, probably the last thing on your mind is health insurance. When you’re young and healthy it’s easy to overlook or pass on purchasing health insurance thinking you don’t need it, but the fact is that without coverage even a minor injury can put you at serious financial risk. Getting sick or injured away from home can be an unpleasant experience so take a moment to assess your student health insurance options before leaving home.

Going without coverage is never a good option, and your school probably requires you to have some form of coverage. Question is – should you stay on your parents’ health plan, enroll in a school-sponsored plan or purchase your own individual plan? Use this guide to help you find the right match for your needs.

Student Health Insurance 101

There’s no single health insurance plan that satisfies every individuals needs. In order to select the right plan for your situation you need to be in touch with your finances and personal priorities. Ask yourself: Is cost your most important consideration? Which kinds of benefits do you really need and which can you do without?

Your Parents’ Family Health Plan

According to the Affordable Care Act provisions, most family health care plans will cover you until 26 years of age as a full-time student who’s still dependent (claimed on your parents taxes), regardless of whether you lives at home or campus. If you have a traditional indemnity plan (i.e., one that provides coverage no matter which doctor you choose), then you should be able to see any doctor near campus. Your parents’ insurer should cover a certain percentage of the expenses as set forth in your plan.

Health maintenance organization (HMO) plans can be more complicated when you college is not nearby a primary caregiver within the HMO system. This is especially common for student attending college out of state. In this case, you may need to schedule appointments with your primary care doctor during school breaks and other visits home

And while it may be difficult or impossible for your child to visit his or her primary care doctor for regular check-ups, there are usually provisions for receiving care in an urgent situation from another hospital. Be sure you and your parents speak with your insurer to review the details of coverage away from home.

College Sponsored Health Plans

Another option is for you to purchase health insurance coverage through your college. Many colleges and university offer low-cost student health plans since they often require that you carry some type of comprehensive health care coverage as a condition of enrollment, or may require it as a condition of any study abroad program. These low-cost health plans for students may even be less expensive than continuing coverage through your existing family plan.

School-sponsored health plans, though not as comprehensive as some policies, are usually enough to get by on if you becomes seriously ill or has a major accident. The reason that these plans are less expensive is the cap they place on total benefits paid (e.g., $250,000). Make sure that you know what the maximum benefit is and that you’re comfortable having coverage up to that limit.

The cost and level of coverage of college health plans can vary greatly from one school to the next. Plans are usually designed specifically for each individual college, and the health services available on campus and in the surrounding neighborhood often determines what level of insurance the college can offer. State laws may also play a significant role in the cost and level of coverage.

Individually Purchased Insurance Plans

The other option is to purchase your own insurance through work or the new health insurance exchanges. Premiums for young, healthy adults are usually affordable — as low as $50 a month — since young adults tend to be less risky for insurers. You may also have a wider choice of primary care doctors and services than is available through your school-sponsored health plan.

Some insurers are offering individual plans targeted at students who don’t have insurance through their parents but aren’t happy with their school’s plan. Deductibles and copayments may be higher than those for a school-sponsored health insurance plan. While health care reforms prohibit insurers from denying coverage to people with medical conditions, if you have chronic health problems, such as asthma, you may have to pay more for an individual insurance plan.

Questions & Criteria to Help You Pick a College Health Plan

You will want to consider the following questions before you purchase a plan, because health insurance can vary widely in their coverage:

  • Is the plan an PPO or HMO
  • Can you use any health provider, local caregiver or hospital?
  • What services are offered free or at low cost in the campus health center?
  • How often is the student health center available? 24-hours or select weekday hours?
  • Are emergency-room visits covered or only in specific situations?
  • Does the plan cover you when you travel (e.g., study abroad or spring break)?
  • Does the plan cover you in summer, even if you are not enrolled in classes?
  • If you have a family plan, are hospitals in the college area accessible and covered?
  • Does the plan include mental health treatment? *Student are often burdened by stress and need everything from simple to comprehensive mental health services
  • Are there deductibles and coinsurance to be paid?
  • What is the maximum benefit amount?

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About Amanda Jensen

FSN college advice columnist - Amanda gives parents and students knowledgeable advice on college planning, tuition financing and scholarships. With up to date and accessible information covering everything from personal finances to federal government policies, she is determined to make the college experience a painless one for all party's involved. You can find Amanda on !

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