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What are Health Insurance Options for Washington 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 

The state of Washington doesn’t require students to have health insurance; however, individual colleges and universities may have their own rules in place. 

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

Some Washington schools offer a student health insurance plan, which may be optional or required unless you have a waiver.

As you plan for college, decide what you will do about your health insurance. Know how you’ll pay for your student healthcare plan and what benefits you need. As a student in Washington state, you have several healthcare coverage options. We’ll explore the most common ones here.

Why Do Washington Students Need Health Insurance?

Students need to see a doctor from time to time, no matter how young and healthy you are. Health insurance lessens what you pay out of pocket for everything from routine preventive care to the treatment of an unexpected illness or injury.

First Step

Your school’s website may be a helpful starting point to learn more about its student health insurance coverage.

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

Assess your healthcare needs and budget before exploring your options. 

Start by answering the following:

  • What are your healthcare needs and budget? 
  • Do you have any ongoing health concerns?
  • What prescription medications do you take? 
  • What do you consider an affordable monthly premium? 
  • What can you realistically contribute to cost-sharing amounts (deductible, coinsurance, copayment)?

Also take the following into consideration: 

Will You Attend School In State or Out of State?

If you’re from Washington and plan to stay there for school, you might keep your existing coverage. Make sure the network includes providers where your college or university is located. If it doesn’t, can you go home when you need healthcare?

If you’re moving to Washington to attend school, you will probably be out of your current health insurance plan’s network. Not all policies cover out-of-network care. Those that do usually charge you more out of pocket for it. As such, you’ll want to consider another coverage option.

Can Someone Claim You as a Dependent?

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) makes premium tax credits and cost-sharing reductions available to those who fall within specific income guidelines. Your status as a dependent could impact your eligibility for these subsidies. 

If your parents, for example, claim you as a dependent on their tax return, all income included on that return is used to determine your subsidy.1 If you are not a dependent, only the income included on your return is used. 

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

If you remain on a parent’s health insurance plan, will it cover doctors and hospitals where you attend school? Even if it does, look into getting your own coverage because more affordable options might be available to you as a student.

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

Your enrollment status may determine whether you qualify for school-sponsored health insurance. Some institutions extend eligibility to part-time and full-time students, while others do not. 

Check with your school to learn about credit hour minimums that may be in place. If you’re a part-time student and don’t qualify for coverage, consider enrolling in an ACA plan or a parent’s plan.

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

Coverage through your mom or dad can be affordable and convenient. Federal law allows you to do so until you turn 26, regardless of whether you’re 1) in college, 2) living at home, 3) eligible for your own job-based coverage, 4) financially dependent, or 5) married.2

This option tends to make the most sense if you’re enrolled in a college or university close to home. Some factors that will help you decide include 1) the plan’s network, 2) whether you find a more affordable option, and 3) whether the coverage meets school requirements (if there are any).

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

Some Washington colleges and universities offer a student health insurance plan. This coverage typically provides 1) comprehensive benefits, 2) low premiums that are rolled into your tuition, and 3) provider networks that include on-campus care if your school offers student health services. 

Student health insurance 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 plan with a Washington provider network.

Other Options

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

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

ACA plans can be a cost-effective choice if you qualify for subsidies. They’re not only comprehensive, including the 10 essential health benefits, they are also “guaranteed issue,” which means you’ll qualify for a policy regardless of your health history, age, gender or other factors. 

You may decide to enroll in 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 a Washington provider network.
  • Don’t have access to a student health plan at school.

Moving to and from school is considered a qualifying life event that makes you eligible for special enrollment, a limited time in which you can purchase coverage outside of the annual open enrollment period.3

You can check your subsidy eligibility and enroll in an ACA plan through Washington Healthplanfinder, the state’s Health Insurance Marketplace.

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

If you already have coverage through Apple Health, Washington’s Medicaid program, or Apple Health for Kids, the state’s Children’s Health Insurance Program, you can keep it if you meet eligibility requirements. It is probably your most affordable option. 

Make sure these benefits are accepted on-campus if your college or university offers student health services. If not, search for local providers who do or see if your school offers affordable coverage.

Medicaid and CHIP don’t usually transfer from one state to another. If you’re enrolled in one of these programs elsewhere, you must reapply for coverage in Washington through the Washington Healthplanfinder.

What Are Other Options for Coverage in Washington? 

Catastrophic and short-term health insurance plans are additional coverage options that might work for you. They tend to have lower premiums than unsubsidized ACA plans, which can make them especially appealing if you buy your own coverage. 

However, these plans aren’t right for everyone because of their eligibility requirements and more limited benefits.

Catastrophic Health Plan

Catastrophic health insurance provides comprehensive coverage with a low monthly premium to people under 30 and others with hardship and affordability exemptions. Due to their high deductibles, these plans usually make sense for people without a lot of healthcare needs.

Catastrophic plans appear among your options at the federal Health Insurance Marketplace if you qualify for them. They 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 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. 

Because benefits center around unexpected healthcare needs, as opposed to preventive services and treatment for pre-existing conditions, short-term plans tend to cost less than unsubsidized ACA plans.

Washington short-term health insurance policies are limited to up to three months in any 12-month period.4 You can find licensed agents and authorized companies that offer short-term plans through the Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner website.

What If You Skip Health Insurance in Washington? 

A federal tax penalty for going without health insurance no longer exists. While some states impose a state tax penalty, Washington is not one of them. Penalties aside, you’ll pay for your healthcare entirely out of pocket if you go without coverage.

What Are State-Specific Rules for Washington Students? 

Washington colleges and universities set their own health insurance rules, so you’ll need to check with your school’s student health insurance requirements.

What Are School Requirements in Washington? 

Health insurance policies vary among Washington’s colleges and universities. A few require coverage, and many do not. Some offer student health plans, while others don’t. Here are some highlights from two of the state’s largest schools.

University of Washington Student Healthcare Plans

Domestic (U.S.) students who attend the University of Washington are not subject to a school health insurance requirement, and a school-endorsed student health insurance plan is not available to them.5

International students with a J1 or F1 visa are enrolled automatically in the school’s International Student Health Insurance Program.6

The school’s campus healthcare providers accept private health insurance plans and Apple Health managed care plans.7 Still, you’ll need to check if your health plan covers healthcare on campus.

All degree-seeking University of Washington students pay a Services and Activities fee that covers:

  • On-campus short-term mental health support. 
  • Medical advice from nurses by phone and videoconference. 
  • Virtual drop-in counseling.
  • One visit with a medical provider for a problem or concern per quarter.8 

Details and included services may change, so check with the school when you enroll.

Washington State University Student Healthcare Plans

Washington State University doesn’t have a health insurance requirement for domestic students and encourages them to stay on a parent’s plan or enroll in coverage through Washington Healthplanfinder.9 

However, international students with a J1 or F1 visa will be enrolled automatically in the school’s international Student Health Insurance Plan.10

Cougar Health Services, which provides Washington State University’s campus healthcare, bills most major insurance plans and Apple Health Plans.11 Examine your plan to see if it covers on-campus care. 

Students without medical insurance coverage will not be refused care, and financial assistance is available to eligible students. 

All students who take seven or more credits in the fall and spring semesters and one or more in the summer pay a Washington State University’s student health fee with their tuition. The fee covers several campus health services at no additional cost, including:

  • One medical clinic office visit per semester. 
  • Medical advice via the telephone nurse line. 
  • Certified health insurance navigators to help you understand your health insurance options. 
  • 24-hour mental health crisis support services.12

Check with the school for details and updates about what your student health fee covers. Students who take fewer credits may opt-in to pay the fee each semester and access these services.13 

What Are Resources for Washington Students

Your school’s website is a good starting point to learn more about student health insurance. It should also provide your institution’s COVID-19 safety protocols and requirements, such as mask and vaccination mandates.

If you’re looking into individual options, Washington Healthplanfinder and its operator, Washington Health Benefit Exchange, offer consumer information. You can learn coverage basics, find help with the application process, and learn how to appeal eligibility decisions. 

The Washington State’s Office of the Insurance Commissioner is another helpful resource. Information provided ranges from a list of health insurance plans and healthcare programs available in the state to information about appealing health insurance denials.

Next Steps

Even if you think you know which coverage is best for you, it is helpful to compare a few options. 

Gather quotes for different types of coverage, such as 1) your parent’s plan, 2) your school’s plan, and 3) an ACA plan. 

Look at 1) premiums, 2) cost-sharing amounts, 3) plan benefits and exclusions, and 4) provider networks to see which best meet your needs.

Health insurance can be confusing to navigate, so ask questions as you make your decision. Contact the insurance company that offers the plan you’re considering. Your school might have resources, and you can find local help through Washington Healthplanfinder.

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  1. In school? Student health plans & other options. Accessed June 2023.

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

  3. Enroll in or change 2021 plans — only with a Special Enrollment Period. Accessed April 2023.

  4. What do you need to know about short-term medical plans. Accessed May 2023.

  5. Insurance & Cost. Accessed May 2023.

  6. ISHIP Office. Accessed May 2023.

  7. Insurance & Cost. 2024

  8. Insurance Coverage and Assistance. Accessed May 2023.

  9. Insurance for International Students. Accessed May 2023.

  10. Billing & Costs. Accessed May 2021.

  11. News & Resources: Services covered by health fee. Accessed May 2023.

  12. Our Services. Accessed June 2023.