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What Are Health Insurance Options for Iowa 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

Iowa does not mandate health insurance coverage, but some colleges and universities do. 

You can stay on a parent’s health plan until you turn 26, but make sure it covers healthcare providers where you attend school.

Some Iowa schools offer a student health insurance plan, which may or may not be required. 

As you plan for college, don’t forget about health insurance. Iowa students have several options: 1) a parent’s policy, 2) student coverage, 3) Affordable Care Act plans, 4) Medicaid or Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and 5) short-term plans. We’ll explore them here. 

Why Do Iowa Students Need Health Insurance? 

Health insurance lessens your out-of-pocket costs for covered medical services, from preventive to emergency care. 

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

Start by answering these questions: 

  • Do you have ongoing medical concerns? 
  • What prescription drugs do you take? 
  • What do you consider an affordable monthly premium? 
  • What can you realistically contribute to cost-sharing amounts (deductible, coinsurance, copayment)?

First Step

Visit your school’s website to learn more about its student health insurance requirements and coverage.

Also, consider the following: 

Will You Attend School In or Out of State? 

If you’re an Iowa resident who remains in-state for school, you can probably keep your existing health insurance policy. Make sure the plan’s network includes healthcare providers near your school.

If you move to Iowa for school, you will likely be out of your current plan’s network. Not all health insurance policies cover out-of-network care, or they charge you more out of pocket for it.

Can Someone Claim You as a Dependent? 

The ACA makes income-based premium tax credits and cost-sharing reductions available. Your dependency status could impact your eligibility for these subsidies.

If a parent or someone else can claim you as a dependent on their tax return, the household income on that return determines your subsidy.1 If you are not a dependent, your tax return is used.

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

If you maintain coverage through a parent, make sure the plan network includes doctors and hospitals where you attend school. Even if it does, investigate enrolling in your own plan because you may find more affordable student coverage options. 

Will You Be a Part-Time or Full-Time Student? 

Your enrollment status may impact your eligibility for a student health insurance plan. Some schools extend coverage to both part- and full-time students, while others do not.

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

Health insurance coverage through a parent can be affordable and convenient. Federal law allows this until you turn 26, even if you are 1) married, 2) not living with your parents, 3) attending school, 4) not financially dependent on your parents or 5) eligible to enroll in your employer’s plan.2

This option might make the most sense if you’re enrolled in a school close to home. Factors that can help you decide to include 1) your plan’s network, 2) whether you find a more affordable coverage option and 3) whether your coverage meets school requirements (if there are any).

Other Options

Catastrophic and short-term health insurance are two additional choices that might work for you.

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

Many Iowa schools offer student health insurance policies. They typically provide 1) comprehensive benefits, 2) low premiums that are rolled into your tuition, and 3) plan networks that include on-campus care if your school offers student health services. 

A student health plan can be a good fit if you’re 1) uninsured, 2) want coverage that is less expensive than what you currently have, or 3) need a network that includes local providers. 

Schools that mandate coverage may automatically enroll students in the university-sponsored plan. Others will hold an open enrollment period that usually starts before each semester and concludes shortly after it begins. 

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

An ACA plan can be a cost-effective choice if you qualify for subsidies. This comprehensive coverage includes the 10 essential health benefits and is considered a “guaranteed issue,” which means you’ll qualify regardless of your health history, age, gender, and other factors. 

You may opt for an ACA plan if you: 

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

Iowa ACA plans are available through the federal Health Insurance Marketplace.

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

If you are enrolled in Iowa Medicaid or Healthy and Well Kids in Iowa (Hawki), the state’s Children’s Health Insurance Program, you can keep coverage for as long as you qualify. This might be your most affordable option, but make sure you have access to healthcare providers who accept these benefits.

Medicaid and CHIP don’t typically transfer between states. If you’re enrolled elsewhere, you need to apply for coverage through the Iowa Department of Human Services

What Are Other Coverage Options in Iowa? 

You might also consider a catastrophic or short-term health insurance plan. These options usually have lower premiums than unsubsidized ACA plans, which can make them especially attractive if you buy your own coverage.

Catastrophic Health Plan

Catastrophic health insurance provides comprehensive coverage to people under 30 and others with hardship and affordability exemptions. These plans have low monthly premiums and high deductibles. They usually make sense for people without many healthcare needs. 

If you qualify, catastrophic plans appear among your options through the federal Health Insurance Marketplace. They are not eligible for subsidies.

Short-Term Health Insurance

Short-term plans provide temporary health insurance. Iowa policies last up to 364 days and maybe renewed up to 36 months.3

This coverage tends to cost less than unsubsidized ACA plans because benefits focus on unexpected healthcare needs, rather than preventive services and treatment for pre-existing conditions.

Short-term plans work well for college students who 1) don’t have access to coverage through a parent, 2) can’t afford an unsubsidized ACA plan, 3) attend a school that doesn’t offer a student plan, or 4) need coverage for only a month or two.

You can quickly get short-term coverage online or through a health insurance agent. These policies are not guaranteed issues.

What If You Skip Health Insurance in Iowa?

While some states impose a tax penalty for going without health insurance, Iowa does not. Without coverage, however, you are expected to pay for your medical care entirely out of pocket.

What Are State-Specific Rules for Iowa Students? 

Iowa colleges and universities make their own health insurance rules.

What Are School Requirements in Iowa? 

Requirements vary by school, so check with your institution. Here are two examples from Iowa’s largest universities: 

Iowa State University 

Iowa State offers a student plan known as the Student & Scholar Health Insurance Program. It is optional for domestic students and available to those registered for five or more credit hours. Eligible students may enroll their spouse/domestic partner and dependent children. 

This coverage is mandatory for international students registered for at least one credit hour, and they are automatically enrolled. They must also enroll their spouse/domestic partner and dependent children who travel with them to the United States.4

University of Iowa 

The University of Iowa requires all undergraduate and international students to have medical insurance.5 The school offers a student health insurance plan to all degree-seeking students registered for five or more credit hours each semester, as well as their dependents.6

What Are Resources for Iowa Students? 

Your school’s website is a good starting point to learn more about its health insurance rules and any coverage it offers. It should also provide information about institutional COVID-19 safety protocols and guidelines, such as mask and vaccination requirements.

The Iowa Division of Insurance provides information about different types of health coverage available within the state, including ACA plans.

Next Steps

Even if you think you know which health insurance is right for you, compare a few options to be sure. At this point, you might also look into supplemental health insurance to help with out-of-pocket costs not covered by your primary plan.

If you have questions while you shop, contact the insurance company that offers the plan you’re considering.

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  1. In school? Student health plans & other options. Accessed July 2021.

  2. About the ACA: Young Adult Coverage. Accessed July 2023.

  3. Iowa Code Rule 191-36.4(17). Accessed July 2023.

  4. Eligibility & Cost. Accessed July 2023.

  5. UI Student Insurance. Accessed July 2023.

  6. Student Health Insurance Plan (SHIP). Accessed July 2023.