Understanding Health Insurance for College Students

Many college students will take a sigh of relief after getting through the stress of leaving home and moving into their new dorms. However, they may face an unexpected test: finding the right health insurance to cover the costs of routine and emergency medical care while they’re in school.

Under the Affordable Care Act, children can now obtain coverage through their parents’ employer-sponsored or privately-purchased insurance plan through age 26. This applies even if they’re married, living away from home or are eligible for employer-sponsored coverage. However, college students need to know what their current insurance pays for and whether they need to buy extra coverage.

For example, families who are members of an HMO typically have coverage only within the state where the parents reside. It’s important to check with the insurer on whether there are in-network providers near campus. An absence of coverage can result in substantial expenses for students requiring emergency medical care or frequent doctor visits.

While PPO coverage may extend out-of-state, it’s still necessary to find in-network doctors and hospitals near campus. In general, only the largest insurers such as Anthem Blue Cross have affiliated networks in other states.

As an alternative, most colleges offer health plans to students. These plans often have an advantage over other health insurance options because they’re convenient, comprehensive and competitively priced. Because they’re grouped with other higher education expenses such as tuition and books, student loans can help with the expense.

For example, the University of California Student Health Insurance Plan provides health benefits to all enrolled students. Plan highlights include routine preventive immunizations, prescription drugs, medical and behavioral health benefits, and emergency room and urgent care visits. It offers coverage 365 days per year that goes with the student when travelling. The cost for undergraduate students is $716.65 per quarter or $2,149.95 annually.

However, be aware that it is common for the college to automatically enroll students in its sponsored health plan. If you have comparable insurance and don’t want to keep dual coverage, the student is required to submit a signed waiver of enrollment form by the specified deadline or you will be charged the premium.

College students can also shop for health insurance on government-sponsored or private health insurance exchanges, but this can be complicated. Keeping a step ahead of changes in healthcare can be challenging. Remember to review your insurance policies annually to ensure you have the right coverage.