Going off to college is supposed to mean the start of something new. But for many young people, it also means giving up health insurance. In fact, nearly two million students are currently without coverage.
Each year they rack up about $200 million in health care costs - money they have to pay out of their own pockets. For a young person just starting out, this can be devastating.
That's why the American College Health Association recommends students have a comprehensive policy covering:
- Preventive care
- Long-term illness
- Prescription meds
You might be worried this coverage is hard to come by, but banish the thought. There are actually lots of ways to keep a college student covered.
- Keep your child on the family health policy.
Thanks to the recent health care reform laws, employer-sponsored coverage no longer ends when a dependent child turns 18. In fact, adult children can now remain on their parents' policy all the way up to age 26. Even students who claim independent status for financial aid can still keep their family coverage.
You do need to be careful in one regard, though. Students who stay on their parent's policy may also have to stay close to home. If coverage is through a PPO or HMO, they'll have to use approved doctors within a local network. That could make going to an out-of-state school impractical.
But what if there isn't a family policy to begin with? In that case, you'll need to find coverage some other way. Here are three of the best options.
- See if there's a college health plan. More than half of all colleges offer students some kind of coverage. It isn't free, though, and the policies differ from school to school. The average cost is around $900 for a year's worth of benefits. But use your judgment. If the premiums are too low, the benefits will be, too. A $50,000 benefit may seem like a lot of coverage, but it won't cover the cost of a major accident or illness.
- Look into an individual policy. College students are generally healthy, so you might get away with taking out a high deductible health plan (HDHP). An HDHP only benefits you in an emergency, though. The problem lies in its coverage gap. Although premiums are low and include the deductible for preventive care, benefits to treat an illness don't kick in until you've spent several thousand dollars. Since most students are tight on cash, this could become an issue. For this reason, an HDHP is only helpful if the student has some form of extra income.
- Look into part-time employment. College students may be able to hold down part-time jobs. With a little dedication and persistence, it's possible to find one that offers health benefits. Start with national retail chains since some routinely cover employees who work 20 hours or more. So do many banks, hospitals and other businesses.
Naturally, students who work are much busier than those who don't. But if health benefits are part of the cheap tadora package, the extra effort will be well worth it. After all, coverage is something no student should go without.