Health insurance has certainly been a hot topic in the last couple of years. And whether you are for or against Obama Care (aka the Affordable Care Act), the fact is that since it was signed into law, your options for getting health coverage have grown tremendously.
It’s also gotten trickier because now each and every one of us is legally required to have health insurance, so instead of simply deciding if you want coverage, now you must decide which coverage is best. To answer that question, you’re going to have to do a little studying.
If you’re heading off to college in the next few weeks and plan to be a full-time student, chances are your school will have some kind of health plan you can sign up for. These plans are usually competitively priced and you can combine its cost with your other college expenses, using your student loans to pay for it. Of course there may drawbacks to your school’s health plan, too, including:
- no coverage for medical services done off campus
- restricted benefits (read the fine print carefully!)
- loss of coverage if you aren’t a full-time student or if you graduate
Your school’s health plan is certainly a good place to start when you’re looking for insurance, but you also have several other options. It’s best to check them all out, then decide which works best for you based on the kind of benefits you’ll need (prescriptions? maternity care?), the deductible and overall cost. Other options to check out include:
- Your Parent’s Plan – You can stay on their plan if you’re a student and under the age of 26. If you’re going to school out of state, make sure there are in-network providers near campus.
- State Health Exchange – This is a great option if you’re not a dependent on your parent’s tax return. Each state offers several different options with varying deductibles, co-pays and benefits. Low-income students can often qualify for tax credits to reduce their monthly premiums. Foreign students with visas can also apply through the state health exchanges.
- Catastrophic Coverage – If you’re under 30 years old, you can opt to have insurance that has lower premiums and very high deductibles. Preventive care is completely covered but if you’re sick, you’ll have to pay 100% for any doctor visits until you meet the deductible.
- Medicaid – Students from low income families may be able to apply for coverage if they live in a state that offers it.
- No insurance – While we certainly don’t recommend this, it’s an option if you aren’t a dependent on your parent’s tax return and make less than $10,000/year. Under those conditions, there’s no legal penalty, but if you get sick or have an accident, you can run up medical bills very quickly, putting a strain on your finances and potentially damaging your credit rating if you can’t pay your bills.
Because the new law mandates that everyone have health insurance, you can be fined if you go more than three months in a calendar year without it. You may think you’re invincible and claim “I won’t get in an accident,” but it’s a big risk to take. As a matter of fact, young adults visit the ER more than any other age group and that kind of care is among the most expensive.
Spend some time shopping around for the health insurance that best suits your needs. Be sure to check out HealthCare.gov for the plans your state offers. Remember that in some cases, an individual plan may be cheaper than joining your parent’s plan (and if you’re lucky, your parents may be willing to pay for it!).
Health insurance protects your finances as well as your health and since you’re just starting out on this big new adventure, you want to make sure both are well taken care of.