Many colleges and universities require students to have health insurance. It may be coverage you already have through a parent or coverage you obtain on your own. It could also be offered by the school itself.
Whether or not your school requires you to have health insurance, you will need a way to pay for healthcare expenses while pursuing your degree. There are many healthcare coverage options for students that extend beyond school and parent plans, including short term health insurance.
Short term health insurance is one alternative if you need budget-friendly coverage and are not on a parent’s plan or are over the age of 26. Additionally, you might consider a catastrophic health insurance plan, Medicaid, and other employer-based coverage (yours or a spouse’s).
Why Short Term Health Insurance For Students
Short term health plans are temporary health insurance policies that help pay for your unexpected medical expenses. Benefits for this type of coverage typically include hospitalization, surgery, medical services, physical therapy, and mental health services, among others—they will vary slightly by plan.
Why might a short term health insurance plan appeal to you? For one, the cost. Budget-minded students who are looking to minimize their living expenses and loan amounts may find this to be an affordable healthcare coverage option. Short term plan premiums—the amount you pay to obtain and keep coverage once you enroll in a plan—can cost up to 50% less than an unsubsidized ACA plan.
Why the discrepancy? Because short term plans are designed for affordability, they do not include all of the Affordable Care Act’s essential health benefits—for instance, few short term plans offer benefits for maternity or preventive care. They may also deny coverage to those with pre-existing conditions, which can require them to pay for expensive medication and treatment.
So, if you’re looking to keep costs as low as possible, don’t need all of the benefits an ACA plan offers, and want coverage to help with the unexpected, then short term medical might be right while you attend college.
Additionally, short term health insurance may appeal to students for the following reasons:
- No open enrollment period. You can apply year-round.
- Easy application. It only takes a few minutes to apply, and you will be notified immediately if you are approved
- Quick coverage. Begin coverage as soon as 24 hours after your application is approved.
- No network restrictions. Visit any healthcare provider. Benefits are not paid based on in- or out-of-network rates.
- Flexible policy length. Purchase a short term policy for as few as 30 days and up to 364 days in some cases, depending on your needs and the laws in your state.
- Customizable plans. Choose from a range of deductible amounts and add any optional benefits that may be offered.
You may want to consider a short term health insurance plan if you:
- Are over the age of 26 and no longer qualify for a parent’s health insurance
- Don’t have access to health insurance through a parent, your own workplace, or a spouse
- Attend a school without student coverage or want coverage other than what the school offers
- Want an affordable alternative to an ACA plan—major medical insurance that meets the Affordable Care Act requirements
- Live far from the in-network providers covered by your parent’s plan
When and where to enroll: Online or through an agent
Is coverage guaranteed? No. You may be denied coverage or charged more based on your health history. Before you can enroll, you’ll need to apply to see if you qualify. If approved, then you can enroll.
What else to know: Short term plans are not available in every state. The maximum policy lengths and number of times you can reapply will also vary by state.
If you are a student-athlete who is considering a short term health insurance, make sure you check the policy benefits and exclusions. You want to be sure the plan you select will cover injuries, especially those obtained while participating in sports.
5 More Student Healthcare Coverage Options
As mentioned above, short term health insurance is one alternative you might consider. Below you will find a brief overview of other common options available to college students, including school health plans and a parent’s insurance.
1. A student health plan through your school
You might have access to or be automatically enrolled in a health insurance plan through your school. These plans can be an affordable way to access insurance that provides in-network care where you attend college. You may even be able to use your financial aid to pay for it if it is billed with your tuition. Benefits will vary by institution.
When and where to enroll: It’s possible that you will be enrolled automatically and charged with your tuition. Check with your college or university for information.
Guaranteed? Check with your school regarding eligibility requirements.
What else to know: If the school plan is mandatory, you may be able to opt-out by filing a waiver and proving you have other coverage that fulfills the school’s minimum requirements.
You will want to be sure you know when and where the school plan is effective—will it provide coverage during breaks or if you visit a doctor back home?
2. A parent’s health insurance plan
It’s likely you’re already enrolled in a parent’s health insurance plan if one is available to you. Whether that plan is group coverage obtained through an employer or an individual plan obtained through an exchange or in the private market, the ACA allows children to continue receiving major medical insurance through a parent until age 26.
You can typically remain on a parent’s major medical plan regardless of circumstances—it doesn’t matter if you are claimed as a tax dependent, turn down job-based coverage available through your employer, live at home or on your own, attend school or not, or are married.
This may be an appealing option if you want to continue seeing your current doctor, and it is oftentimes the most affordable way to obtain coverage while you’re a student.
When and where to enroll: You may already be enrolled. Otherwise, enrollment occurs through your parent’s workplace during an annual open enrollment period or if you qualify for a special enrollment period at another time during the year. Contact the employer for special enrollment eligibility criteria.
Guaranteed? Yes, as long as it is major medical insurance and you meet the requirements to qualify for benefits (e.g. your parent works full-time hours, has access to dependent coverage). Major medical plans offered through the workplace are subject to ACA requirements and thereby guaranteed.
What else to know: If your parent’s plan is through an employer, you may want to check to be sure coverage ends at age 26. Rules may vary by state and policy. According to HealthCare.gov, you can remain on a parent’s exchange-based policy until December 31 of the year you turn 26 or the age permitted in the state where they live.
3. Employer coverage (yours or your spouse’s)
If you work while you’re in school, most likely as a full-time employee, you may have access to your own job-based health insurance. This can be an affordable option for non-traditional and part-time students or anyone else willing to work full time while pursuing their studies. It all depends on how your employer shares the cost, if at all.
If you are married or in a domestic partnership, you may also be eligible for job-based coverage through significant other. Employers may cover family members at a different rate, so check what the cost to you would be.
When and where to enroll: You may already be enrolled. Otherwise, enrollment occurs through during the annual open enrollment period for your workplace (or your spouse/domestic partner’s). If you need coverage outside of open enrollment, you’ll need to qualify for a special enrollment period. Contact the employer for special enrollment eligibility criteria.
Guaranteed? Yes, as long as it is major medical insurance and you meet your employer’s requirements to qualify for benefits (e.g. work full-time hours). Major medical plans offered through the workplace are subject to ACA requirements and thereby guaranteed issue.
What else to know:
4. Catastrophic health insurance plan through ACA exchanges
Another way to obtain affordable coverage for unexpected medical expenses is through a catastrophic health insurance plan. These plans can appeal to college students because they usually come with low monthly premiums, and they offer the same essential health benefits as other major medical plans, including preventive care at no additional cost. Catastrophic policies also cover at least three primary care visits per year before you’ve met your plan deductible.
A note about catastrophic plan deductibles: They are quite high. You are required to pay for most healthcare yourself until you reach your plan’s deductible. Once you hit that amount, the insurer pays for all covered services at 100%—no copayment or coinsurance applies at that point. The deductible for catastrophic plans in 2019 is $7,900.
When and where to enroll: You can enroll in a catastrophic plan through a state or federal ACA exchange as well as in the private market. If you are 30 or older and want to enroll based on a hardship or affordability exemption, then you will need to apply for that exemption through the exchange to be sure you qualify.
Guaranteed? Yes, as long as you are under age 30 or qualify based on a hardship or affordability exemption.
What else to know: Catastrophic plans are not eligible for premium tax credits. If you don’t qualify for a catastrophic plan or want to look for a subsidy-eligible individual major medical plan, then you can shop a state or federal exchange to find a qualifying plan.
Medicaid offers low- or no-cost healthcare coverage to those who qualify. As of Aug. 1, 2019, a total of 37 states including the District of Columbia had expanded Medicaid to those whose household income is below 133% of the federal poverty level. In states where Medicaid was not expanded, you must meet other eligibility criteria.
When and where to enroll: If you qualify, you can enroll in Medicaid year-round through a state or federal health insurance exchange or state Medicaid agency.
Guaranteed? No. You will need to qualify based on income alone or other criteria. Visit Medicaid.gov to find guidelines for your state and learn how to apply.
What else to know: Medicaid must provide comprehensive coverage; however, specific benefits vary by state. Medicaid program names will also vary by state; for instance, Medicaid is called Apple Health in the state of Washington.
What Coverage Does Your College Require?
Student coverage requirements will vary by school. Your college or university should send you information regarding its policies.
Mandatory enrollment in a school health insurance plan is fairly common, and oftentimes students will be automatically enrolled and billed in their tuition unless they apply for a waiver that proves they have adequate coverage and thereby exempts them from the school plan.
If you have any questions about what kind of health insurance you’ll need when classes begin or are unclear about whether or not you’ll be automatically enrolled in a student health plan, then you will need to contact your school for more information.
What’s The Best Health Plan For You?
What do other students do? Nearly 20% of students were insured through a college- or university-sponsored health insurance plan in fall 2018, according to a report from the American College Health Association National College Health Assessment. Almost 65% received coverage through a parent’s plan, while 14% had another type of plan, with the remainder either uninsured or uncertain whether they had coverage or not.
Your best choice may be immediately clear to you. If it isn’t, here are a few basics to keep in mind as you compare option and make a decision:
Premium: The amount you pay to have health insurance. Your premium will typically be a monthly expense.
Deductible: This is the amount you must pay out of pocket before your plan benefits kick in. Your deductible applies to the length of the policy, and you will begin a new deductible when you begin a new policy. For instance, if you end a 90-day short term policy and enroll in another 90-day policy, then you will start a new deductible.
In general, the lower your deductible, the higher your premium and vice versa. You will need to balance your ability to pay for coverage with your ability to pay out of pocket for healthcare when you need it.
Out-of-pocket costs: These are the expenses you pay out of pocket. They include covered expenses that count toward your plan deductible, plan copays, and healthcare that isn’t covered by your health insurance policy.
Networks: Some plans may require you to see in-network providers and will charge you more (or provide no benefits) for care received out of network. If you want to keep seeing the same doctor, then you’ll need to be sure that provider is included in your plan’s network.
Do you live close enough to home that you can continue to use the same providers when you need care? If not, you could wind up with out-of-network charges if you need to go to a doctor or hospital near your school. You may need to consider other coverage options with in-network providers close to your college or university.
Short term health insurance plans typically don’t have network restrictions, which means they provide coverage for any healthcare provider or hospital that accepts them.
School requirements: Once you know the minimum coverage requirements set by your college or university, it may be obvious which health insurance option to choose.
Other considerations will include whether or not you are expected to use the campus healthcare center (if your school has one) and how that works with an outside insurance plan. Know what healthcare services and treatment will be covered by your tuition.
As you make your decision, be sure to read policy information carefully and ask the insurer questions before you enroll.
Who Can Help You Choose Health Insurance?
You have a lot on your mind right now and, if your college career is just beginning, you may be navigating everything for the first time. Adding health insurance decisions to the mix might feel a touch overwhelming.
Some sources of help may include:
- Your parents
- A health insurance agent
- Customer support for the insurer you’re considering
- State and federal health insurance exchanges
You don’t have to go it alone. Ask questions no matter how simple they may seem. It’s important to understand what you are buying so that you understand how to use it.
Between classes, studies, activities, work and everything else, there’s a lot to juggle during the school year. You don’t want to put a lot of energy into worrying about your healthcare coverage, so it is worth putting in some time and effort upfront to ensure you opt for something that will adequately meet your needs.
That said, if the plan you select isn’t meeting your needs, you can always investigate when and how you can switch to one that does.