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What Are Health Insurance Options for Illinois Students?

HealthCare Writer

Updated on March 14th, 2024

At, we want to make health insurance easy to understand so you can make better decisions. This post may have links to lead generation forms or direct you to our trusted insurance brokers, which is how we make money. However, this will not influence our writing.

What You Need to Know

Illinois law doesn’t require students to have health insurance, but some schools do.

Your school may offer a student health plan, which may be either mandatory or optional.

You can stay on your parent’s health insurance plan until you turn 26, but you’ll need to make sure it covers healthcare where you attend school.

As you plan for college, don’t forget about health insurance. It may even be a requirement depending on where you attend school. You have many options as a student in Illinois.

Why Do Illinois Students Need Health Insurance? 

Even young and healthy people need to see a doctor from time to time, whether for preventive care or to treat an unexpected illness. Health insurance helps cover the cost of these visits. Without it, you’ll have to pay your own medical bills. 

What Should You Consider When Searching for Student Health Coverage in Illinois?

There’s not a one-size-fits-all choice for student health insurance coverage. Your individual health and financial situation largely determine what makes sense for you. For example, do you have preexisting conditions or take prescription medications? What can you afford to pay? 

Will You Attend School In State or Out of State? 

If you live and go to school in Illinois, you may want to keep your existing health plan. Before you do, check the provider network to see if it includes doctors and hospitals near your school. If not, think if you can easily travel home for in-network healthcare. 

If you come from out of state, you’ll probably be out of your plan network and need to find new coverage. Many policies won’t cover out-of-network care or change more for it.  

Multiple Choices

Illinois students can choose among a number of health insurance plans, including those offered by the Affordable Care Act, their parent’s plans, and school plans (where available), Medicaid, and catastrophic plans, among others.

Can Someone Claim You as a Dependent? 

Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), premium tax credits and cost-sharing reductions are available to those who enroll in an individual major medical plan. Your status as a dependent could affect your eligibility for these income-based subsidies.

If someone can claim you as a dependent on their tax return, all income on that return will be used to determine your subsidy. If you’re not a dependent, only the income included on your tax return will be used.

Will You Stay on Your Parent’s Plan or Enroll in Your Own Plan? 

If you get coverage through a parent, check if the policy includes healthcare providers near your school. You may need to enroll in your own plan if it doesn’t. Even if it does, see if a more economical choice is available to you as a student. 

What If You Get Covered Under Your Parent’s Plan in Illinois? 

For the sake of convenience, you may be tempted to stay enrolled on a parent’s plan. Federal law allows you to do so until you turn 26, regardless if you’re in college, living at home, eligible for job-based coverage, financially dependent, or married.1

This option works best if you attend school close to home. Again, the plan’s provider network will play a big factor. Other things to consider are: 

  • Can you access more affordable coverage?
  • Does your parent’s plan meet your school’s requirements (if applicable).

What If You Get Covered Under Your School Plan in Illinois? 

Your college or university may offer a student health insurance plan. You may have to enroll in it unless you have an approved insurance waiver form on file with your school. 

This coverage usually provides:

  • Comprehensive benefits.
  • Low health insurance premiums you can roll into your tuition.
  • Provider networks with on-campus care if your school has a student health center.

A school plan can be a good fit if you’re uninsured or need coverage with an Illinois provider network. You may also want to consider this option if it’s cheaper than your current coverage — just make sure it meets your individual healthcare needs while at school and home on breaks.

Benefits of a College Health Plan

Purchasing student health insurance through your university usually provides comprehensive benefits, low premiums, and provider networks that include on-campus care if your school has a student health center.

What If You Get Covered Through the Affordable Care Act in Illinois? 

If you qualify for subsidies, an ACA plan could be cost-effective. They provide comprehensive coverage, including the 10 essential health benefits. They are also guaranteed issue, which means your application can’t be denied due to preexisting health conditions like diabetes. 

An ACA plan may be right for you if you: 

  • Need to see a doctor on a regular basis and/or take prescription medications.  
  • Buy your own health insurance and have a lower income. 
  • Need coverage with an Illinois provider network. 
  • Don’t have access to a student health insurance plan at school.

You can buy Illinois ACA plans through the federal Health Insurance Marketplace. If you’re a dependent who comes from another state, you and your parents(s) will need to fill out separate applications and provide financial information for everyone included in the tax household. Your parent(s) will indicate they don’t need coverage and the policy is for you; however, their income will still factor into your subsidy eligibility.2

What If You Get Covered Through Medicaid or CHIP in Illinois? 

If you’re already covered by Illinois Medicaid or All Kids, Illinois’ Children’s Health Insurance Program, you can continue with this coverage for as long as you’re eligible. Check to see if your school’s health center accepts these benefits or there are providers nearby that do. Otherwise, you may want to see if your school’s student health insurance plan is an affordable option.

Medicaid and CHIP benefits don’t usually transfer between states. So, you’ll need to reapply in Illinois if you enrolled in one of these programs elsewhere. 

In Illinois, you may qualify for Medicaid based on income alone. If eligible, it appears as an option when you search for plans on the federal Health Insurance Marketplace. 

What Are Other Options for Coverage in Illinois? 

Catastrophic and short-term health insurance plans are additional options to consider. These plans tend to have lower premiums than unsubsidized ACA plans, which can make them appealing to young adults on a tight budget. If you’re eligible and plan to pursue either, make sure it meets your school’s coverage requirements. 

Catastrophic Health Plan

Catastrophic health insurance is available to people under 30 and other adults with hardship and affordability exemptions. These plans are available through the federal Health Insurance Marketplace and provide comprehensive coverage for a low monthly premium. However, they have high deductibles, which can make them a better fit for people who have few healthcare needs. Catastrophic plans are not eligible for subsidies.

Short-Term Health Insurance

Short-term health insurance is a temporary coverage option that can work well for college students who don’t have access to coverage through a parent, can’t afford an unsubsidized ACA plan, attend a school that doesn’t offer a student plan, or need coverage for a month or two.

Short-term plans are designed to help with the cost of unexpected medical bills, as opposed to preventive care or treatment for preexisting health conditions. For this reason, short-term plans tend to cost less than unsubsidized ACA plans. 

Illinois allows short-term health insurance policies to last from 30 to 180 days, and renewals are not allowed.3 You can apply for short-term health insurance online or through an agent. However, coverage is not a guaranteed issue, which means your application can be denied if you have a preexisting condition.

What If You Skip Health Insurance in Illinois? 

There is no longer a federal tax penalty for going without health insurance. While a handful of states have imposed their own penalties, Illinois is not among them. However, you will be expected to pay your medical bills fully out of pocket if you don’t have health insurance.

What Are State-Specific Rules for Illinois Students? 

Illinois allows colleges and universities, both public and private, to establish their own student health insurance requirements. 

What Are School Requirements in Illinois? 

Rules vary by school. You’ll need to check with your college to see what it requires. Below are highlights from two of Illinois’ largest universities. 

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign requires all campus-based students to have health insurance.4 Students are automatically enrolled in the university-sponsored plan; however, if you have comparable coverage you can submit an insurance waiver by the deadline to opt out. 5 

Northwestern University 

Illinois enrolls all degree-seeking students into the Northwestern University Student Health Insurance Plan at the start of each academic year.6 Students covered by their own health insurance plan may waive the coverage duiring the open enrollment period.7 

What Are Resources for Illinois Students? 

Your school’s website is a good starting point to learning more about student health insurance, including enrollment and waiver deadlines. You can also learn about campus health services, their cost, and which insurance plans are accepted.

Get Covered Illinois is the state’s official Health Insurance Marketplace. You can explore ACA plans available in the state, learn more about coverage, how policy’s work, and find local help. You will eventually be transferred to the federal Health Insurance Marketplace to compare plans, apply for subsidies, and enroll in coverage.

If you’re not sure if you should choose Medicaid or an ACA plan, Get Care Illinois can help you learn more about each program. You can also use this site to learn about free healthcare clinics in Illinois and find local help. 

The Illinois Department of Human Services is another useful resource for students. Here you can find information about other programs, such as emergency services for food, sexual assault, or domestic violence, as well as resources for housing, mental health, and substance use disorder. 

You can learn more about all Illinois medical programs through the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services.

Next Steps

Even if you think the choice is clear, it can be helpful to compare a few coverage options before you decide. For example, you may want to look at your parent’s plan alongside a school plan or ACA plan. Which will best meet your needs throughout the upcoming school year? Make your decision based on key details such as premium and cost-sharing amounts, plan benefits and exclusions, and provider networks. If you have questions along the way, contact the insurance company that offers the plan you’re considering.

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  1. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. About the ACA: Young Adult Coverage. Accessed March 2024.

  2. U.S. Government Website for the Federal Health Insurance Exchange. In school? Student health plans & other options. Accessed March 2024.

  3. Illinois Department of Insurance. Memorandum RE: Company Bulletin 2019-07 Short-Term, Limited-Duration Health Insurance Coverage Act. Accessed March 2024.

  4. University of Illinois. Office of the Registrar. Student Health Insurance. Accessed March 2024.

  5. University of Illinois. Student Health Insurance. Opting Out. Accessed March 2024.

  6. Northwestern University. Student Affairs. NU-SHIP Eligibility. Accessed March 2024.

  7. Northwestern University. Student Affairs. Annual NU-SHIP Enrollment/Waiver Process. Accessed March 2024.