4 health insurance options for college students

4 health insurance options for college students

Updated May 7, 2019: Hey, remember when former President Barack Obamacare's health care law (aka Obamacare) made it so health insurance companies had to let you stay on your parents’ health insurance plan until you turned 26? Pretty cool, right? There’s one thing you can check off the school supplies list.

But staying on your parents’ health insurance plan isn’t the only option, and, as I wrote for Chelsea Krost this month, there are a lot of reasons you might want to get off your parents’ insurance plan. Chief among them? If you go to college in a different state from where your parents live, your health insurance plan may not cover any local doctors. You’ll be effectively uninsured, and you’ll have to go home for any major or minor medical needs.

If you don’t want to stay on your parents’ health insurance plan while you’re at school, here are four alternative health insurance options.

1. Your school's health insurance plan

Most colleges have some sort of health insurance plan – though coverage may be limited compared to traditional health insurance. Usually, college plans will only cover you at the school’s health centers. They may also not cover any injuries that occurred while you were intoxicated.

The biggest benefit to school health insurance? You can lump in the cost with tuition, room, and board, meaning that you can use student loans to pay for it. Before buying a school health insurance plan, read the fine print very carefully so you understand what’s covered.

2. A marketplace health insurance plan

If you don’t want to rely on your school’s plan (or just want to price compare), you can hop on over to your state’s health insurance marketplace and shop for health insurance. There’s a good chance you’ll qualify for a subsidy as well, which means you’ll get a tax benefit that will help pay for your health insurance plan.

A note of warning: Unless you qualify for special enrollment, you can only shop for health insurance during open enrollment. It usually runs from Nov. 1 to Dec. 15 each year, though some state exchanges are open for a few extra weeks and Nevada allows residents to sign up for a health care plan all year. You can learn more about open enrollment in our state-by-state guide to Obamacare.

Leaving your parents’ health insurance plan on purpose does not qualify you for a special enrollment period, but moving across state lines does.

Once you can enroll, make sure you’re picking your plan based on the benefits, not just the price point. In the war of price versus quality, college kids are known to pick price ("Ramen for dinner! Again!"). With a subsidy, you should be able to afford a higher quality plan.

3. A marketplace catastrophic health insurance plan

There’s an alternative type of health insurance available on your state’s marketplace, and it’s only available to those under the age of 30 and those with low incomes. It’s called catastrophic health insurance, and it’s pretty straightforward: It pretty much only covers extremely expensive health emergencies.

Catastrophic health insurance plans come with very high deductibles – as high as $6,000 and more – which pretty much means it’s only going to kick in if you have a really terrible accident or illness. While that will stop you from going completely bankrupt, $6,000 is still a lot of money to pay before coverage kicks in. (Catastrophic plans do cover three primary care visits per year, as per the law, but any visits beyond that or at a specialist’s will not be covered until you hit the deductible.)

What’s the benefit? Catastrophic health insurance plans are much, much cheaper than traditional health insurance plans.

Here’s our advice: Don’t get a catastrophic health insurance plan unless it’s your only option. If you can use loans to pay for a traditional health insurance plan or your parents are willing to help pay for it, definitely go with the more expensive plan with a lower deductible.

4. Medicaid

Most college students won’t qualify for Medicaid, but if you’re the dependent of a low-income family, you may be able to apply.

If you’re in one of the states that is expanding their Medicaid coverage and you are not listed as a dependent on your family’s tax return, you may be able to apply for Medicaid if you make less than 133% of the poverty line. Visit our state-by-state guide to Medicaid to learn more.

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