Health Insurance for College Students + Graduate Students (Over 26 Years Old)

Jenifer Dorsey
2018-11-05 September 5th, 2018 |
Read time: 12 minutes

There are many student health insurance options available. Inside this article you will learn about how to get health insurance as a student as well as the following coverage options:

  1. A parent’s major medical health insurance plan
  2. Student health insurance plans
  3. Catastrophic health insurance
  4. Medicaid
  5. Individual major medical health insurance
  6. Short-term medical health insurance
  7. Hospital indemnity insurance

When you head to college, whether you’re a freshman starting your education or a graduate student continuing yours, there’s a lot to consider. In addition to declaring a major and paying tuition, there are other grownup details like health insurance.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires that most Americans have health insurance that is considered minimum essential coverage or face a tax penalty (this tax penalty goes away in 2019). Regardless of whether or not you are required to have it, health insurance helps provide financial protection for unexpected medical bills.

Fortunately, there are a number of options available to students, whether they are attending school part- or full-time, are over or under age 26, or work while attending school or have no income. The best health insurance for college students is the one that meets their financial situation and healthcare needs.

How to get health insurance for students

Before we explore health insurance options for students, here is a brief overview of the process for selecting and enrolling in coverage.

Learn about different healthcare coverage options for college students. Continue reading for an overview of common health insurance choices.

Assess your personal healthcare needs. Consider your health history and how often you need medical care in a typical year. Do you have pre-existing conditions that require regular trips to the doctor? Are you taking any prescription medications? Do you participate in activities that put you at risk for injury?

Determine your budget. What can you afford to spend on your monthly premium? What can you afford to spend out of pocket for healthcare (e.g., toward your deductible, coinsurance, copayment, non-covered expenses)? Do you have a way to pay for unexpected medical care?

Gather quotes for different plans. As you narrow your college healthcare coverage options, you should begin to gather quotes for coverage; you’ll need to provide information such as your birthdate and ZIP code. When you look at your health insurance quotes, make note of monthly premium rates, but also remember to look at other costs such as the plan’s annual deductible, copayment amounts and coinsurance percentages.

Compare your options. In addition to cost, look at details such as plan networks (do networks apply or not; if so, are your preferred healthcare providers in-network and do you attend college within the plan network), what types of medical expenses are included and excluded, prescription drug coverage and how benefits are paid (lump-sum to you or a percentage to the provider).

Apply for coverage. These days, you can typically do so online and often within a few minutes. Some healthcare policies are guaranteed issue (e.g., major medical). Others involve underwriting or a quick health questionnaire before a decision is made (e.g., short-term medical).

Need help?

We know health insurance can be confusing and overwhelming. You don’t have to go it alone in your decision-making.

Call 888-256-6270 to speak with an advisor from Health eDeals, or find local assistance with Agent Finder.

7 health insurance options for college students

Whether you are a parent trying to help your child secure health benefits or you are a young adult making these decisions on your own (maybe for the first time), here are 7 common health insurance options for students over and under 26.

1. A parent’s major medical health insurance plan

If you are a college student under 26 and have access to health insurance through your parents, this may be the first option you’ll want to consider because it can be easy and cost-effective. (Of course, you and your parents will have to sort out who pays the premium.)

The Affordable Care Act requires health insurance companies to allow adult children to remain on a parent’s major medical health insurance policy through their 26th birthday.1 This applies to both individual and job-based (i.e., group) health insurance plans.

Young adults are eligible for dependent coverage whether or not you are married, have access to other health insurance (e.g., through a job or your spouse), live with your parents, or are claimed as a dependent on a parent’s tax return.2

What’s included? Because major medical insurance must fulfill all ACA requirements, it includes the 10 essential health benefits and no-cost preventive services as mandated by law. Major medical insurance is guaranteed issue, which means you cannot be denied coverage due to pre-existing conditions or your health history.

Who might consider this option?

  • Students under 26
  • Full-time students
  • Part-time students
  • Students going to school in the same state their parents reside
  • Students who want comprehensive, ACA-qualified health insurance
  • Students with pre-existing health conditions
  • Students who take prescription drugs or require ongoing medical care and would not find a catastrophic plan or alternative coverage such as short-term health insurance feasible

Learn more about major medical insurance.

Quick glance at major medical obtained through a parent

Policy Duration Limits 365 days
Year-Round Enrollment *
Guaranteed Issue
ACA Minimum Essential Coverage
Subsidy Eligible
How Benefits Pay Out % paid to provider

* May be available during a special enrollment period, if you are eligible.

How to get this coverage: Major medical insurance may be available through your parent’s employer (i.e., a group plan). Otherwise, it is available through your parent’s individual major medical plan purchased, which may be purchased through HealthCare.gov or state-based health insurance exchange as well as in the private marketplace.

You can only enroll during the annual open enrollment period (Nov. 1 through Dec. 15, 2018) unless you become eligible for a special enrollment period due to a qualifying life event.

2. Student health plans

Some colleges and universities offer health insurance plans to their students. In most cases, these plans are considered minimum essential coverage (you’ll want to ask)3, and if they are fully insured plans (whereas the plan available through your school is provided by a health insurance company) they will cover the 10 essential health benefits.4

Whether or not a student health plan is available to part-time students depends on the school. Colleges and universities develop their own eligibility criteria for student health plans.5

What’s included? Fully insured student health plans should include mandatory Affordable Care Act benefits (e.g., essential health benefits, prescription drug benefits, and certain preventive care services at no additional cost, among others). A self-insured plan may include different benefits; states regulate self-insured student health plans.6

Who might consider this option?

  • Students without access to a parent’s health insurance plan
  • Students attending school outside their parent’s health insurance provider network
  • Students under and over 26 who qualify for their school’s student health insurance and find it meets their needs

Quick glance at student health plans

Contact your school for details about its student health plan and eligibility criteria.

How to get this coverage: Inquire with your college or university to see if it offers ACA-compliant student health insurance coverage and when they hold enrollment.

3. Catastrophic health insurance

If you’re under 30 or qualify for a hardship exemption from the ACA’s individual mandate, you can buy a high-deductible health insurance policy known as catastrophic health insurance.7

Catastrophic plans tend to have lower monthly premiums and higher deductibles8, which can make them attractive and potentially more affordable health insurance for college students who have to buy their own health insurance.

If you’re insured by a catastrophic health plan, you’ll typically pay for all medical expenses up to your deductible amount. For this reason, it is important to keep in mind that if you enroll in a catastrophic plan and incur medical bills due to illnesses, injuries or other healthcare needs, you could be on the hook for thousands of dollars before your plan benefits kick in.

What’s included?9

  • 10 essential health benefits, as defined by the ACA
  • Certain preventive services at no additional cost (your deductible does not apply)
  • 3 primary care visits per year (your deductible does not apply)

Who might consider this option?

  • Students under 30
  • Anyone with an affordability exemption
  • Full-time students
  • Part-time students
  • Students without access to a parent’s health insurance plan
  • Students attending school outside their parent’s health insurance provider network
  • Students willing to face a high deductible (and potentially pay more out of pocket for healthcare) in exchange for a lower monthly premium

Quick glance at catastrophic health insurance

Policy Duration Limits 365 days
Year-Round Enrollment *
Guaranteed Issue
ACA Minimum Essential Coverage
Subsidy Eligible
How Benefits Pay Out % paid to provider

* May be available during a special enrollment period, if you are eligible.

How to get this coverage: You can purchase a catastrophic health insurance plan through HealthCare.gov or a state-based exchange. You can only enroll during the annual open enrollment period (Nov. 1 through Dec. 15, 2018) unless you become eligible for a special enrollment period due to a qualifying life event.

4. Medicaid

Medicaid is a program that provides free and low-cost health insurance coverage to those who qualify based on income and other criteria. It is funded by state and federal governments. Medicaid for college students is available to those who qualify based on their state’s eligibility criteria.

What’s included? Under federal law, Medicaid must provide certain mandatory benefits such as inpatient and outpatient hospital services, physician services, laboratory and X-ray services and home health services.10 States determine optional benefits such as prescription drug cards, case management, physical therapy and occupational therapy.11 Visit Medicaid.gov for a list of mandatory and optional benefits.

Who might consider this option?

  • Students under and over 26
  • Full-time and part-time students
  • Students without access to a parent’s health insurance plan
  • Students whose parental health insurance plan is too expensive
  • Students with no income
  • Students with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level who are residents of a state that expanded Medicaid
  • Students who live in a state that didn’t expand Medicaid and qualify based on other criteria; visit Medicaid.gov to find your state’s overview

Quick glance at Medicaid

Policy Duration Limits 365 days
Year-Round Enrollment
Guaranteed Issue *
ACA Minimum Essential Coverage
Subsidy Eligible **
How Benefits Pay Out % paid to provider

* While you cannot be denied based on health history or pre-existing conditions, you must meet your state’s eligibility guidelines.
** Medicaid premiums are low- or no-cost depending on your eligibility. ACA premium tax credits and cost-sharing subsidies do not apply.

How to get this coverage: Medicaid is available through HealthCare.gov or your state-based exchange. Learn more at Medicaid.gov.

5. Individual major medical insurance coverage

If you are a college student who doesn’t have access to major medical insurance through your parents or through your own job, you may want to consider an individual major medical insurance plan.

Individual major medical insurance plans are ACA compliant and include all benefits and protections required under the law (e.g. 10 essential health benefits, no-cost preventive services, guaranteed issue).

This can be an attractive option to college students looking for affordable health insurance because subsidies that lower monthly premium payments are available to those who qualify based on income and purchase plans through HealthCare.gov or a state-based exchange.

Estimate your subsidy with the Health eDeals calculator.

Who might consider this option?

  • Students under 26 without access to a parent’s health plan
  • Students over 26 without access to an employer’s health plan
  • Full-time or part-time students
  • Students attending school outside their parent’s health insurance provider network
  • Students who want comprehensive, ACA-qualified health insurance
  • Students with pre-existing health conditions
  • Students who take prescription drugs or require ongoing medical care and would not find a catastrophic plan or alternative coverage such as short-term health insurance feasibleStudents who qualify for subsidies and want to lower premium costs
  • Students who don’t qualify for Medicaid

Learn more about major medical insurance.

Quick glance at individual major medical

Policy Duration Limits 365 days
Year-Round Enrollment *
Guaranteed Issue
ACA Minimum Essential Coverage
Subsidy Eligible **
How Benefits Pay Out % paid to provider

* May be available during a special enrollment period, if you are eligible.
** When purchased from HealthCare.gov or a state-based exchange

How to get this coverage: You can buy individual major medical insurance through the state-based and federally facilitated exchanges established under the Affordable Care Act as well as in the private marketplace through a health insurance producer (i.e., agent or broker), directly from a health insurance carrier, or from a website that offers multiple plan options.

Estimate your subsidy using our health insurance calculator.

6. Short-term health insurance

Short-term medical plans provide temporary health insurance for students and others. Policies last as few as 30 days and up to 364 days in some states.12 They can be quickly obtained online within a few minutes.

Short-term health insurance includes a range of benefits to help you pay for catastrophic medical events (e.g., unexpected injuries and illnesses). However, they don’t typically cover preventive care or pre-existing conditions (there are some plans on the market that include limited benefits for certain pre-existing conditions as well as some plans with limited preventive care benefits). You could be denied coverage based on your health history, in which case you may want to consider major medical insurance.

It’s important to keep in mind that the limited nature of short-term health insurance policies is what typically makes their premiums lower than more comprehensive coverage. As with major medical insurance, the more robust the benefits you choose, the higher the premium you’ll pay, and vice versa.

As such, short-term plans can provide relatively affordable health insurance for college students who need temporary coverage, don’t qualify for an ACA subsidy, and need benefits for worst-case scenarios. However, you’ll want to gather a variety of quotes for short-term and major medical plans to determine which options is truly right for you as a college student.

Who might consider this option?

  • Students who need temporary coverage over summer break, J-term or another time of year
  • Recent college grads in between major medical plans
  • Recent college grads in an employer waiting period
  • Students attending school outside their parent’s health insurance provider network
  • Students under 26 without access to a parent’s plan
  • Students over 26 without access to an employer’s plan
  • Full- or part-time students
  • Students who don’t qualify for Medicaid
  • Students who are exempt from the ACA’s individual mandate in 2018
  • Students who need quick access to next-day health insurance coverage

Learn more about short-term plans and get answers to frequently asked questions.

Quick glance at short-term medical

Policy Duration Limits  30 to 364 days*
Year-Round Enrollment
Guaranteed Issue
ACA Minimum Essential Coverage
Subsidy Eligible
How Benefits Pay Out % paid to provider

* Policy duration limits vary by state.

How to get this coverage: You can get a short-term insurance quote, compare plan options, and apply for coverage within minutes online or through a health insurance producer. Use Agent Finder to search for an agent in your area.

Get an instant short-term medical quote. Start coverage as soon as tomorrow.

7. Hospital indemnity plan

A hospital indemnity plan is another alternative health insurance option for college students. Hospital indemnity insurance is fixed-benefit indemnity coverage that can help with expenses related to hospitalization, surgery and critical illnesses. These standalone policies are not ACA-compliant and will be considered as separate from any other coverage you may have. They provide specified, fixed-dollar amounts for covered hospital services and durations.

What your hospital plan pays in benefits for covered medical care will match what is stated in your policy, regardless of what the provider charges. That amount may be per day, per week, per month, per visit or per event, depending on the benefit that applies.

As an example, if you had a hospital plan that paid a daily intensive care benefit of $3,000 per day and were in intensive care for 2 days, then the benefit amount would be $6,000 ($3,000 per day x 2 days).

Hospital plans may also include benefits for additional services such as ambulance services, chemotherapy, and radiation as well as optional benefits for preventive care, X-rays and other services.

Who might consider this option?

  • Students with or without other health insurance coverage
  • Students who want access to benefits that help pay for expenses related to hospitalization, surgery and critical illness
  • Students over and under age 26
  • Full- or part-time students
  • Students without access to a parent’s health insurance plan
  • Students without access to an employer’s health insurance plan
  • Students attending school outside their parent’s health insurance provider network

Learn more about hospital indemnity plans.

Quick glance at hospital indemnity

Policy Duration Limits  365 days
Year-Round Enrollment
Guaranteed Issue
ACA Minimum Essential Coverage
Subsidy Eligible
How Benefits Pay Out Fixed amount to insured

How to get this coverage: Call 888-258-6270 to learn more or get a quote.

Summary + next steps

Ultimately, your decision about the best health insurance for you as a college student will come down to the right balance between monthly cost, out-of-pocket cost and the healthcare benefits you need. If you are not exempt from the ACA’s individual mandate in 2018, you may want to secure health benefits that are considered minimum essential coverage so you do not owe a penalty. The tax penalty goes away in 2019.

Start shopping and comparing health insurance options such as short-term medical and hospital indemnity.

Call 888-256-6270 to speak with an advisor from Health eDeals.

Find local assistance with Agent Finder.

 

Begin Coverage in 3 Easy Steps!

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Step 1: Get a quote within seconds
Step 2: Compare multiple plans
Step 3: Finish application online
Originally Published On September 22nd, 2015

Footnotes