Choosing the Right Health Insurance for College

This summer you’ll undoubtedly be spending a lot of time getting ready for college – choosing your dorm sheets, packing, working on extra credits, or maybe interning or working to save money for school. However you choose to spend your summer, before you head to campus this fall, make sure to get one very important detail squared away – your health insurance coverage. Choosing health insurance coverage for college can be confusing, but in a few simple steps, you can be sure you have adequate coverage for your health and in your area.

As a college student (or future college student), you are probably young and healthy, but that’s no reason to skimp on health insurance coverage. Being uninsured or underinsured can lead to potentially huge financial hardship, which is not something you’ll want to take on in addition to your student loans. Because college is such a high-cost time for students and their families, you may be particularly vulnerable to financial risk. Health insurance is one way to keep an accident or illness from setting you back financially and interrupting your ability to pay for college.

To help you choose health insurance coverage for college, consider the four tips below. You may find you have great coverage available to you in steps 1 or 2, which is great! If not, don’t worry – you have options!

1. Evaluate your family coverage and if it will be accepted around your campus.

This step has two parts. First, does your family have a health insurance plan that you can get coverage under? Oftentimes this is the most cost-effective option open to college families. Under new healthcare law, until you turn 26, you are eligible to receive coverage under your parent’s plan.

If you decide that coverage under your family plan is a cost-effective option (it likely is), the second step is to make sure that the coverage offered by this plan covers medical providers near your campus. Check to see if area hospitals, the school health center, and any clinics or services your student may need while at school are in-network under your family’s healthcare plan. If not, you could find your family in a very expensive situation if something were to happen at school. Check your out-of-network coverage for specifics, and if it’s not much coverage, consider a different plan.

2. Evaluate student health plans from your school.

Many schools require that students carry health insurance, and will often offer a plan specifically for students. Check that the plan meets the minimum coverage requirements under new healthcare law, or else you could get fined for not carrying enough coverage. The school’s plan will likely offer coverage that works well at healthcare providers near campus.

3. If neither offer appropriate coverage, search for your own plan.

If your parent’s plan or your school plan aren’t a good fit, consider searching for your own plan. There are several ways to find health insurance plans: from private providers, non-profits, and government sources, or search all three.

When choosing an individual health insurance plan, however, you may not be able to enroll in a plan outside the open enrollment period. In many cases, you will have had to experience a “qualifying event,” such as loss of coverage, moving to a new state, getting married, and more, to be eligible for a Special Enrollment Period. Speak with an insurance agent to figure out if you are eligible and what plans will work best for your budget and your situation.

If you’re a student who is independent from your parents, you may qualify for Medicaid or income-based subsidies to help you pay for your insurance, depending on how much income you have during the school year. If you are working while attending school, see if your employer offers a plan. You may find you have access to affordable healthcare through their employee benefits.

4. If you’ll face gaps in coverage, consider Short-Term Medical.

If you want to buy your own plan, but aren’t eligible until open enrollment, consider a Short-Term Medical plan to bridge the gap and provide coverage during that time. The open enrollment period opens on November 15, 2015, and until then you’ll want to consider some way to protect yourself from the potentially huge costs of healthcare, should something happen. Short-Term Medical can help protect you financially from bigger healthcare costs, so you don’t go uncovered. These types of plans offer coverage for accidents and illnesses, but aren’t full health plans, so you’ll have to wait until your individual health plan is up and running to get your annual physical.

With new healthcare law in effect, it can be confusing to figure out what coverage is best for college. Luckily, college students have many options when it comes to choosing a health insurance plan. Most importantly, don’t skip on coverage – you’ll be fined and open yourself up to financial loss if something were to happen.