As you prepare to go to college, don’t forget to pack health coverage. Most colleges require students to have health insurance. And, if you don’t have health coverage, and you earn enough to afford it, you may have to pay a tax penalty. There are several ways of getting covered.
Your parents’ health plan. You can be covered by your parents’ health plan until you turn 26. But, if you’re attending school away from home — especially out-of-state — check with the insurer to be sure the plan will give you access to a network of doctors and other healthcare providers near your college. Some plans, such as PPOs, may cover care by providers who are not in the network, but out-of-network care usually costs more than in-network care. Other plans, such as HMOs, only include in-network practitioners in one specific geographic area. But, plans may offer a guest membership. That would allow you to be a “guest” of a network of providers near your college. Also, check to see if emergency care in the college location is covered.
Student health plan. Most colleges offer student health plans. One advantage of such plans is that the costs of their premiums are grouped with other college expenses, such as tuition and room and board. So, student financial aid can help pay for them. One disadvantage is that they may have more limited coverage than other plans. Check with the school to make sure the plan has enough benefits to count as minimum essential coverage. If it doesn’t, it won’t protect you from having to pay the federal penalty for not having insurance.
Health Insurance Marketplace. You can buy health coverage for yourself in the federal and state Health Insurance Marketplace. Go to healthcare.gov to enroll. Unless you qualify for a special enrollment period, you can’t enroll until this year’s open enrollment period, Nov. 1 through Dec. 15, 2017. When you apply, you’ll find out if you qualify for subsidies to reduce the cost of coverage or whether you’re eligible for Medicaid, the government health insurance program for people with limited incomes.
Catastrophic health plan. If you’re under 30 and applying to the Health Insurance Marketplace, you’ll have the option of getting a catastrophic health plan. That’s a plan with a low monthly premium but a high deductible (the amount you have to pay in covered health care costs before your plan begins to pay). For 2017, the deductible for catastrophic plans is $7,150. Such a plan can be a good bet if you’re in good health and don’t expect to be using many healthcare services but want to be protected against the potentially substantial costs of a serious illness or injury. On the other hand, you’ll have to pay out of pocket for most routine care.
Give your health coverage some thought. You’ll be able to concentrate better on your studies if you’re not worried about the cost of healthcare.
Photo by Sole Treadmill
Robin Gelburd, JD, is the president of FAIR Health, a national, independent nonprofit with the mission of bringing transparency to healthcare costs and insurance reimbursement. FAIR Health oversees the nation’s largest repository of private healthcare claims data, comprising over 22 billion billed medical and dental charges that reflect the claims experience of over 150 million privately insured Americans. Follow on twitter @FAIRHealth