When it comes to choosing the right health insurance for college students, things need to be as easy as possible. After all, they need all the help they can get – and they need all the good health care insurance they can get.
- The U.S. Center for Disease Control estimates that 1.5 billion episodes of binge drinking happen every year, primarily among Americans age 26 or younger.
- Unprotected sex leads to 19 million sexually transmitted diseases annually, with 50 percent occurring in Americans 24 and younger.
- According to the National Institute of Health, about 66 percent of the U.S. population is overweight.
So, yes, U.S. college students do need health insurance – maybe not at the level of someone in their 70s or 80s, but they need it nonetheless.
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So where can you get the best health insurance for college students? Should they stay on a parent's plan, go on the Affordable Care Act exchanges, or get insurance from their colleges, among other options? What are the best options and which ones are the least effective? What are the costs involved? Are college plans affordable?
5 options: Health insurance for college students
Let’s take a look:
1. Staying on a parent’s plan − "Financially, leaving the child on the parent's plan until age 26 is generally the financially best move as additional kids are relative cheap add-on’s to an existing subscriber’s policy,” says Rob Fuller, a partner with the Los Angeles-based based law firm Nelson Hardiman. But with insurance carriers like Aetna and United Health pulling back from the Affordable Health Act’s signature insurance exchanges, and if a student goes to school out of state, families need to make sure the parent's health care plan is accepted, and that there are in-network medical care facilities (especially doctors and emergency rooms) near the student’s college or university.
2. Enrolling on the college’s plan − A college health care plan is highly doable, and most colleges offer them. But it’s the process that usually vexes college students. “First, check with your school,” says Sarah Schupp, founder of University Parent Media, a collegiate life style planning service in Boulder, Colorado. “Do they require you to use the school's student health insurance plan? Or, do they allow you to waive it? If they allow you to waive the plan, make sure to check the deadline for submitting the waiver, and then verify that it has been received and accepted. We hear from many parents that they didn't know that they'd be automatically enrolled in the school's plan, and by the time they find out, it is too late to waive the plan.” Schupp notes that most schools will require you to fill out the student health insurance waiver every semester, so make sure to carefully note the deadlines.
3. Entering the individual ACA health care exchanges – College students can also choose to enter the ACA exchanges and given their habitually low-budget financial status, can likely get subsidized plan payments, courtesy of Uncle Sam and the U.S. taxpayer. College students are eligible for ACA subsidiaries, if their annual income is up to 400 percent of the federal government-assessed poverty level, and if they can’t get coverage elsewhere. If you’re in school, with no or low income, you can qualify for a health care insurance subsidy that costs under $75 per month. There are caveats, however. “One catch,” reports HealthCare.gov. “If someone claims you as a tax dependent, you can buy an insurance plan through the marketplace but won’t qualify for savings based on your income.”
4. Getting catastrophic coverage – U.S. adults under the age of 30 have a unique option – they can buy so-called catastrophic health insurance that usually offers small premium payments and big deductibles. With the risk of illness or injury for the under-30 demographic lower than for older Americans, a catastrophic plan may be a good deal for those seeking health insurance for college students. “Catastrophic health insurance plans have low monthly premiums and a very high deductible – up to $6,850,” HealthCare.gov reports. “They may be an affordable way to protect yourself from worst-case scenarios, like getting seriously sick or injured. Note that you pay most routine medical expenses yourself.”
5. Finding discounts – No matter which policy you select when looking for health insurance for college students, scouring the health care landscape for discounts for health insurance for college students can be time-consuming. Consider programs that offer a health care discount. Get as many insurance quotes as possible to make sure your paying the lowest price for the most coverage.
Comparison shop for student health insurance
In the end, there is no best or worst option – each student’s situation is unique to their circumstance, says Hector De La Torre, executive director at Transamerica Center for Health Studies.
“The easiest choice is if the student is on their parent’s employer health plan and they are attending a college in the same area,” De La Torre advises. “Continue to use that coverage and decline the college’s Student Health insurance Plan (SHIP) – which is done at the start of the school year.
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The worst thing a person can do when looking for health insurance for college students is is not comparison shop, he adds.
“Despite cost being the second most important factor to millennials when looking for healthcare, only 37% have comparison shopped; and 26% have not gathered information about health, health insurance and healthcare providers in the past 12 months, according to our recent TCHS Millennial Survey,” De La Torre says.
The survey also shows that the highest percentage of remaining uninsured Americans are millennials, and 21 perecent are currently students. That figure is just too high, especially given the myriad health care options out there for health insurance for college students.
So get going on your search for the best health care insurance for college students – it could be one of the best investments you’ll make in your four years on campus.