4 health insurance options for college students


Adam CecilFormer Staff WriterAdam Cecil is a former staff writer for Policygenius, a digital insurance brokerage trying to make sense of insurance for consumers. He is a podcast producer, writer, and video maker based in Brooklyn, NY.

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Updated Aug. 28, 2019: Hey, remember when the Affordable Care Act 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. 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 local doctors. You’ll be effectively uninsured, and you’ll have to go home for any 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

Many colleges offer student health insurance plan, though the coverage network may be limited compared traditional health insurance. Some might only cover services rendered at the campus health center. Others might only cover students during the academic year, leaving a gap during the summer. 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 compare prices), 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, 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 by choice 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. With a subsidy, you should be able to afford a robust plan.

3. A marketplace catastrophic health insurance plan

There’s an alternative type of health insurance available on your state’s marketplace. It’s only available to those under the age of 30 or those with low incomes. It’s called catastrophic health insurance. These plans come with low monthly premiums and very high deductibles — as high as $7,900 for 2019.

This means it’s only going to kick in if you have a really terrible accident or illness. While that might stop you from going completely bankrupt, $7,900 is still a lot of money to pay before coverage kicks in. Catastrophic plans do cover three primary care visits per year by law, but any visits beyond that or to a specialist 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.

But because of the high deductibles, you may want to explore other options before buying a catastrophic health insurance plan. If you can use loans to pay for a traditional health insurance plan or your parents are willing to help pay for it, a plan with a lower deductible might be better in case of an emergency.

4. Medicaid

If you’re living in one of the states that has expanded Medicaid coverage to everyone making below a certain income level and you are not listed as a dependent on your family’s tax return, you may be able to apply for Medicaid. Not every state has expanded Medicaid, though, and in many cases you have to be a parent, pregnant or disabled to qualify for this state-run program for needy families. Visit our state-by-state guide to Medicaid to learn more.

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Former Staff Writer

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Adam Cecil is a former staff writer for Policygenius, a digital insurance brokerage trying to make sense of insurance for consumers. He is a podcast producer, writer, and video maker based in Brooklyn, NY.

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