If you're going off to college, you need student health insurance. Going to college is one of the most important things you can do to secure your financial future. But what happens if you get sick or injured while you're there?
Don't be lulled into a false sense of security by your relative youth and apparent good health. Catastrophic accidents and sudden ailments can happen to anyone at any time, and big medical bills could derail all of your carefully laid plans. So it's important to make sure you have health insurance coverage.
Here are some options:
Stay on Your Parent’s Health Insurance
If your parents carry you on their insurance, stay on it as long as you can.
With the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, beginning in September 2010, your dependent children must be allowed to stay on your health plan up to age 26 unless your young adult is eligible for employer health coverage.
Beware of the details, though. If your parents' coverage is a health maintenance organization (HMO), full coverage may only be available in the area where they live. Some HMOs have reciprocal arrangements that allow for full coverage in areas outside their local base, however, and that's something that you should investigate before you select this option.
Similar problems can arise with parental insurance that's based on a preferred provider organization (PPO). It typically requires you to get treatment from a medical provider within a predetermined network to get the best rates, and you might not find one if your school is far from home. You might have to go home to get the lowest copayments and coinsurance.
In the case of a medical emergency, your parent’s health plan is required to cover services from any provider or facility (such as an emergency room) that provides immediate care.
No Longer Working or Covered by Your Parents, Check Out COBRA
If you have recently left a job that provided you with group health insurance, a federal law called COBRA allows you to stay on that plan for at least 18 months as long as you pay the full premiums. The health reform legislation does not make any changes in COBRA.
If you are over 26 and still attending college, you may lose the health plan coverage that your parents have been providing. However, you may be eligible for COBRA continuation coverage for some period of time. Your parents, who have been carrying the insurance for you, will need to check with their insurance agent or benefits manager at work to make sure that you are eligible.
See if Your School Offers Health Insurance
Many colleges and universities offer low-cost health plans for their students through contracts with private health insurance companies. Check with your admissions office to see if your school does, and if so, what sort of coverage you can get.
Some colleges and universities may require that you carry some type of comprehensive health care coverage as a condition of enrollment.
Your school may offer several types of student health policies ranging from a simple accident policy to one that covers major medical needs. It is probably a good idea for you to purchase a comprehensive medical policy that will cover visits to the student health service, specialists, medically-necessary procedures and diagnostic tests.
Buy Your Own Insurance
If your school does not offer a low-cost health plan, you may want to consider buying an individual health insurance policy through an insurance broker or agent.
Individual policies can be expensive, and the health plan will evaluate your health before making a decision to provide you with coverage. If you have a pre-existing medical condition, a health plan may either refuse to cover you or impose a pre-existing condition exclusion period.
However, effective January 1, 2014, health plans will no longer be allowed to impose a pre-existing condition waiting period or refuse insurance to anyone with such a condition. Also, stasrting in 2014, you will be able to purchase health coverage in a health insurance exchange in your state or region.
Health Insurance Through Medicaid
If your family's income is low, your family is beset by high medical bills, or you have a disability, you may qualify for Medicaid. To find out if you are eligible, check with your state’s insurance department.
The health reform law will also expand Medicaid eligibility to include all Americans under age 65 with incomes up to 133% of the federal poverty level, including adults without dependent children.
Apply for Health Coverage Through Your State’s Health Insurance Pool
Many states have special health plans for residents who do not qualify for Medicaid, cannot afford health insurance, or have been denied coverage from a private insurance company. The following is an up-to-date list of states with high risk health insurance programs:
Find a Community Health Center
If you currently have no insurance but need treatment, try looking for a federally-qualified community health center (FQHC) near your college. Community health centers can be found in most cities and many rural areas of the country. These health care facilities provide care to people without health insurance and have sliding fee scales based on income.
Community health centers provide checkups, treatment of illness, prenatal care, immunizations and care for your children, and treatment of mental health and substance abuse problems. Many health centers also have dental clinics and pharmacies in their buildings.