Between navigating campus life and completing coursework, incoming freshmen are unlikely to be concerned about their health insurance coverage. But aside from getting oriented and stocking up on dorm room essentials, getting health insurance should be a top task on students’ checklists. Most colleges and universities require students to have health insurance, and chances are they’re already listed as a dependent on a parent’s plan, which they are eligible to stay on until age 26, under the Affordable Care Act. Students can also opt to join a campus health plan. Though there are many ways for students to remain covered, insurance options and rules can be confusing. So, if your child is headed to college, here are health insurance options to consider.
Here’s what to know about health insurance for college students:
— Students may have access to health insurance through their college or university.
— You must notify your health insurance agent that your child is enrolled in college.
— Discuss medical care options and parental involvement.
— You’ll likely want to keep students with pre-existing conditions on your plan.
— Evaluate the benefits of the university health plan.
Students May Have Access to Insurance Through Their College or University
Some colleges include a health insurance plan with tuition. You may be able to get the plan removed and reduce tuition costs by several thousand dollars a year, but in order to do so, you’ll likely need to get a waiver every school year by showing proof that your kid is insured under your own health care plan.
You Must Notify Your Health Insurance Agent That Your Child Is Enrolled in College
“Most health benefits plans provide coverage for the customer’s child when they go to college, though parents should check to be sure there are in-network health care providers where the child will be in school,” says Douglas Nemecek, chief medical officer at Cigna Behavioral Health.
“They also need to understand how the plan will or will not reimburse providers who are out-of-network. If there does not appear to be providers available in-network, the child may benefit from also being covered by the school plan,” Nemecek says.
Vered DeLeeuw, the founder and author of the blog HealthyRecipesBlogs.com, echoes similar sentiments. DeLeeuw, who is based in San Francisco, has two daughters; her oldest is a sophomore at Harvard. “Her freshman year, we declined the university health insurance and kept her on our own health insurance,” DeLeeuw says.
But this past summer, before her daughter’s sophomore year, DeLeeuw learned that her daughter might not be covered for nonemergency services in Massachusetts. “So I called our insurance, and they confirmed that while she’ll be covered for emergency care in Massachusetts, she won’t have regular health care coverage or prescription coverage,” DeLeeuw says.
This year, she has her daughter on the family’s health care plan and the school’s plan. “The college health care plan is fairly affordable — around $3,000 per year. It’s definitely worth the peace of mind,” DeLeeuw says. “Yes, she can get basic health care at the university clinic regardless of insurance. But if she needs a prescription medication, or if she needs to see a doctor outside of Harvard Health, it’s good to know that she’s covered.”
Discuss Medical Care Options and Parental Involvement
Your kids understandably want their independence, but ask if they’d still like Mom and Dad to be somewhat involved in the health care part of their lives — and they may appreciate it, given that they will be plenty busy with academics and their social life.
“Parents may also want to discuss with their child the option to sign a release of information about medical care when the student seeks care at school,” Nemecek says. “Otherwise, the school and medical providers will not release any information to the parents, since the student is over 18 and considered an adult. This is another important issue for families to address when students go off to college.”
If your child has any pre-existing conditions, it’s especially important to discuss how involved you’ll be. There are other reasons parents may want to be involved and attuned to their child’s medical care, including mental health issues to serious injuries.
You’ll Likely Want to Keep Students With Pre-Existing Conditions on Your Plan
Gail Trauco, a registered nurse who runs the company Medical Bill 911, a consumer education website that teaches people how to save money on their medical expenses, says going with only the college health plan may be a better option for some parents. However, she cautions that there are some downsides. “If the college offers a plan, it may be limited to use of the college’s affiliated hospital or medical system. Out-of-pocket deductibles may also be higher and as much as $10,000 to $15,000 dollars annually,” she says.
“A college student with a pre-existing condition or chronic illness will receive more benefit to remain on the parent’s health plan,” Trauco says. In any case, if you are thinking of choosing either your health plan or the college health plan, “you need to think about your total health care costs, not just the monthly premium cost that is paid to your insurance company,” Trauco says. She adds that some of the considerations include the deductible for each plan, the copayments and out-of-pocket costs.
“A lower premium health plan is not a benefit for patients with a chronic or life-threatening illness that requires a great deal of medical oversight, treatment and routine prescription medications,” she says.
Evaluate the Benefits of the College or University Health Plan
Do your homework and review the college website for relevant information on the plan, including health care tools. Gabby Beckford, a 24-year-old recent college graduate from Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia, and the blogger behind the travel website PacksLight.com, says that she was able to stay on her parents’ health plan and had her university’s health insurance, since it was included in the price of tuition. “Schools often do this as a way to cover all students,” she says.
Beckford says that it worked out well for her. With some health care ordeals, like having her wisdom teeth taken out, she used her parents’ insurance. But for other appointments, such as blood tests, a sprained ankle and flu shots, she saw the university physician on campus and had no copays. It worked out well in other ways, too. “The school’s insurance also included a free nutritionist and mental health services,” Beckford says.
She adds that her parents’ insurance may have had the same services as well. Still, Beckford is a proponent of investigating the advantages of the university health care plan. “My advice would be to read the school’s insurance policy in depth,” Beckford says.
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