Going to college is an incredible experience. It’s a time for learning, training for your future work and for growing. Leaving for college can also be a scary experience if you’re leaving the comfort and protection of your home for the very first time. When you’re packing for college, you don’t want to forget any of your possessions that you will use every day, but you might not be thinking about bringing something that is just as important as your possessions with you, and that’s health insurance. For college students, like anyone, health insurance is imperative. Here’s why.
With medical costs rising, a good health insurance policy is extremely important. If you happen to have continuing insurance coverage under your parent’s health insurance policy, you’re lucky. If your parents want to boot you off, offer to pay your fair share – it’ll be more affordable than other plans for just you. However, most college plans are very generous – since they understand you’re not working, they’ll cover the vast majority of all your costs, whereas your parents’ plan might only cover 60%-90%.
Maybe you’re not so fortunate to be covered on your parent’s insurance plan, because you’ve reached the age limit required for coverage. If you’re one of those students who has no insurance, you shouldn’t waste any time at all investigating health insurance plans for yourself. With the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, you’ll be subject to a ~$100 fee come tax season, and a year after that, you’ll owe double.
Research will show you that you have two options to choose from. First, you can enroll in a college sponsored insurance plan, or you can purchase insurance coverage from an insurance company that offers student health insurance. Each has advantages and disadvantages. Student health plans normally require you to get care from on-campus facilities, while private plans provide flexibility across a region or state. Also, many Universities won’t allow enrollment anymore unless you have proof of coverage, one way or another, so keep that in mind.
Enrolling in a college health plan is convenient and easy to do. There’s normally no application and the paperwork can be completed before you ever unpack your things in your dorm or apartment. The price might be high, but it’s likely good value, and it can be billed along with your tuition and fees to your parents, student loans, or other source of funding. In most cases, eye and dental insurance is included in the college health plan, but not always. Keep in mind that many college health plans have limits on annual coverage – if you have a pre-existing condition such as diabetes, HIV, MS, etc, this may become a problem for you, and a supplemental health plan might be necessary.
It’s worth noting that most colleges offer no coverage for students who choose to travel abroad. If you’re planning a semester or year abroad, this shouldn’t be a cause for alarm, but something to keep in mind. A study abroad program will normally provide its own insurance program, but you should still purchase extra travel insurance for any other kind of issue that may arise (lost bags, catastrophic events, etc), and also know that these plans typically don’t cover pre-existing conditions.
A huge advantage of private health insurance is that a student can continue this coverage after they graduate, so there’s no lapse in coverage between graduation and starting a working career. It’s not a big surprise for most people to learn that this is kind of insurance comes at a pretty price. The premiums are more expensive than the college plan, and the deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses are more expensive as well. Vision and dental plans are almost always absent from private policies.
If you’re able to land a full-time job at a university you’re attending, you’re likely to be entitled to a very generous insurance policy. Almost all universities offer extremely comprehensive plans – with minimal deductions from a paycheck (if any), no deductible and 100% coverage for almost any type of procedure. This is how colleges make up for the fact that they can’t always pay as much as private sector jobs (that, and their generous time off policies).
So, if you’re a masters student or you’re considering working through school, this can be a very advantageous route to stay covered, make money and get some experience. Due to the non-profit nature of the work at institutes of higher education, you’re likely to have free time to study as well. This can be a great option for someone who’s married and/or has children that need coverage as well.