Student health insurance: Weighing your options

Mother and daughter embracing behind car on college campus

College students are typically required to have health insurance. Learn more about what your options are and what questions to ask.

When your student enrolls in college, you may be surprised to learn that they no longer have to rely on you for their health insurance. Many colleges, both public and private, offer student health insurance. Here’s what to consider before you enroll your student — or keep them on your plan.

How much does student health insurance cost?

The best way to find the cost is to go to the source: the university. The information is usually readily available on each school’s website or via a quick phone call to the Office of Student Health.

For instance, Princeton University (PDF) charges undergraduate students $1,800 per academic year for student health insurance. At the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, undergrads pay $794 per year for health insurance.

Is on-campus health insurance right for your family?

Many colleges push their health insurance pretty heavily, but it’s not your only option. It’s smart to compare the costs and benefits of options before choosing a plan. Your student can be insured in one of three ways:

  • Your family health insurance plan: If you have employer-provided insurance, or are self-employed and purchased a family policy, you can keep your student on your family plan until their 26th birthday.
  • A stand-alone insurance policy: Students can buy their own insurance policy through the Health Insurance Marketplace. Financially disadvantaged students may qualify for Medicaid.
  • Campus health plan: These plans usually cover care in the on-campus student health center and, possibly, at other medical facilities in the plan’s network.

Factors to consider before choosing a plan

Monthly premium prices are important, but they’re not the only thing to consider when choosing a health plan for your student. You may also want to ask the following questions:

  • Does the plan offer a reasonable number of in-network medical providers and offices in or near your student’s college town? And with a campus-provided plan, can your student see off-campus professionals, or must they go to the on-campus health center?
  • How easy will it be for your student to use the insurance away from school? Do they have convenient access to medical providers during the summer or while traveling in the United States or abroad?
  • Do you clearly understand what the policy includes? For instance, a plan with a very low monthly premium might require you to pay a high deductible amount out of pocket before the health plan begins covering costs. You may also still be responsible for copays, coinsurance, prescriptions, and laboratory test costs.
  • What services does the on-campus health center offer? Does the university have physicians on staff? Nurse practitioners? Mental health specialists? Can students get low-cost immunizations, screenings for diseases, and other services on campus — even if they don’t have the campus health insurance plan?

Keep in mind that as long as you meet the minimum income requirements and don’t qualify for other exemptions, your student is legally required to carry health insurance. Otherwise, they may risk paying penalties.

Also note that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires all insurers — which includes your family plan, stand-alone plan, and campus plan options — to charge in-network insurance rates at any available hospital if your student is rushed there with a life-threatening emergency.

When do I have to make a decision about my student’s health care?

Some — but not all — colleges automatically charge your student for a campus health insurance plan, whether you planned to enroll your student or not.

The only way to get this fee removed is to show proof that your student has insurance that’s comparable to what’s offered by the university. Opt-out deadlines may be earlier than you might think, so be sure to pay attention to dates. For instance, Princeton’s opt-out deadline is June 30, while the University of Illinois’ opt-out period is the first month of the fall semester.

It’s also important to note that most schools with automatic insurance enrollment policies require students to fill out new insurance waivers each year if they want to decline campus-provided insurance.

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