3 Health Insurance Options for College Students

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Getting ready for college is an exciting time in life. Well, at least for the student, not always so much for the parent who is about to face empty nest syndrome and some astronomical tuition bills. 

Regardless though, whether it’s a teenager’s first time away from home or an adult is getting a Ph.D., going back to school is a big life event that triggers changes. For younger students, college years still fall into that amount of time where we’re invincible and can’t get sick or injured. “Sure! I can bong a beer and slide down this staircase!” says Joey Freshman before he breaks his jaw and collarbone. “But I’m only 19?” says Jane Sophomore who has just received an unfortunate diagnosis that she didn’t even know was possible for anyone under age 60 to get. For those reasons, you need health insurance. Some schools may offer college students health insurance, but you also have other options, and these will continue to evolve now that health care reform is here.

Student Health Insurance Facts

  • Everybody’s doing it — more than 1 million students have student health insurance coverage
  • All grown up — health insurance for students now includes prescription plans, higher coverage levels, and free preventative care
  • Over half of all colleges and universities offer health insurance for college students
  • 20% of college students have no health insurance

Do College Students Need Health Insurance?

The very simple answer is yes, college students need health insurance. Even very young, healthy people need to be protected against catastrophic accidents and bouts of the flu. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), medical expenses topped $1.26 trillion in 2009 and the cost has only increased. If you’re uninsured, unexpected medical bills can make student loans seem like the tips college students leave for servers. On the other hand, if you have a college student health insurance plan, the only thing you’ll need to worry about is making up missed school work (and still have money left over to buy yet again the newest iPhone).

Is Health Insurance Required for College Students?

Not necessarily. Some states have made it mandatory for a student to have health insurance before entering college. Other individual colleges and universities may require medical insurance for students, but right now, there isn’t a federal mandate that requires all students to have health insurance. However,  in 2014, everyone, regardless of their affiliation with a school, will be required to have health insurance as a result of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Finding College Student Health Insurance

For students and their families, finding student health insurance luckily isn’t that hard. If you’re a traditional college student, you have several options to choose from.

Parent Health Insurance Plan

First, you can choose to stay on your parents’ health insurance. Under the ACA, children are now allowed to stay on parents’ insurance plans until the age of 26. For many college students, this is a great way to maintain coverage and still get an education, but you need to make sure that it fits your needs.

If a student travels out of state for college, coverage could be completely waived. It’s also possible that a student could have higher co-pays and deductibles not to mention limited availability of in-network care providers. Check with your insurance company to see if there are any limitations on medical insurance for students. As long as a student is covered appropriately, this is probably the best option for student health insurance.

College Health Insurance Plan

If staying on a parents’ plan isn’t a valid option, the majority of colleges and universities offer health insurance for college students. This is an affordable option but premiums vary by states and schools. Yearly premiums can cost anywhere between $30- $2,400, but if you have the option of choosing between a parent’s plan and a college plan, it’s best to at least look at this coverage.

Currently, the ACA requires all colleges have at least a coverage limit of $200K, cover preventive care, and offer a prescription drug benefit. Good college plans also offer mental health coverage. As your student prepares for school, sit down and compare a parental health plan with the college student health insurance offered by the school. You may save money and have better coverage with the school plan, which is designed for the student and the location.

Individual Health Insurance Plan

If you aren’t eligible for parental coverage and your school doesn’t offer health insurance, it’s still possible to find a student health insurance plan through a national provider. Know that this will by far be the most expensive option though. Although the price will be relative to college student’s age, it’s still not going to be cheap for most students. If they’re paying for it themselves, it can be quite a burden, so this should be used as a last resort. Buying individual insurance can be a tricky process and you have to weigh benefits with cost. If this is your only option, it’s best to work with an independent agent who can help you gain more control over your insurance situation by exploring and leveraging all the options available.

Options for the Non-Traditional Student

Not everyone who goes to school is 18 and a bright-eyed freshman, but health insurance is still important. Luckily, for graduate students, international students, and students studying abroad, many of the options listed above still apply.

If you’re over 26 and in graduate school, you aren’t eligible for your parent’s health insurance, but your college could provide graduate student health insurance that’s comparable to the traditional plan. You can also search for individual plans and there are certain providers that specialize in providing graduate student health insurance.

As an international student, check to see if the college you’re attending offers health insurance for international students. If you can find a different plan that offers comparable coverage, you should have the option to waive the college’s plan. Compare each to make sure that your needs are covered and you can afford the premium as well the co-pay amount and deductible.

If you’re traveling abroad as a student, you have to make sure that you still have health insurance. Traditional plans may not provide coverage if you venture out of a certain region, so finding student travel health insurance may be your only option. If the school is sponsoring a trip, health insurance may be included in the cost, but other individual providers can create a package tailored to your journey. While traveling abroad, you might need emergency medical evacuation and a 24-7 help line. Look for these when searching for insurance.

Pursuing an education is admirable but protecting yourself is necessary. Before you hit the books, make sure that you’re properly insured. Whether you’re a traditional or non-traditional student, there are several options available. Just remember that no health insurer likes risky behavior — like the behavior an “average” college student would partake in — and if nothing else prevents this behavior, maybe cost will.

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