College is stressful. Add that stress to all-nighters and a diet that completely ignores half of the major food groups, and odds are that at some point you’ll find yourself in a waiting room.
But if there’s one thing college students are notorious for not having, it’s money — so how do you make getting health care affordable? Maybe you’re still on your parents’ plan. But maybe you’ve aged out, or you’ve realized that their plan won’t work for you at your out-of-state school. Then what?
Luckily, health insurance for students isn’t a new concept. Here are your best options.
School Insurance Plans
Most universities offer some sort of health insurance for students. Some of them will only let you go to the school’s health center. These plans usually cover minor illnesses — meaning you’ll have somewhere to go when cold and flu season comes — and may cover mental health counseling as well. If you break your leg, though, you might not be able to rely on the plan to help out.
Universities will also usually work with an insurer to offer a more traditional health plan. This type of insurance will include all of the small stuff the health center plans do, with additional coverage for things like vaccinations and reproductive health services. But that doesn’t mean it will cover every possible situation, so read through the fine print carefully and check for any gaps in your coverage.
Marketplace Exchange Plans
If you don’t mind looking outside of your school, you might be able to find an affordable plan on the government’s Health Insurance Marketplace.
Traditional Marketplace health plans. This option might require a little more work on your end than getting a school plan. Not all plans are created equal, and it’s worth taking an afternoon to compare different plans’ premiums, coverage and out-of-pocket costs. This insurance can also get pricy, so check to see if you can qualify you for a subsidy. You can only enroll in a Marketplace plan during open enrollment each November and December, so keep a close eye on your calendar. If you miss open enrollment, try applying for a special enrollment period or consider getting a short-term insurance plan to tide you over.
Catastrophic coverage plans. These Marketplace plans are available to people under 30, and they really only kick in for expensive medical emergencies. They have low monthly premiums but high deductibles, which means you’ll pay for minor illnesses and injuries yourself. However, if you end up in a real bind and get hit with a medical bill in the tens of thousands of dollars, this plan will make sure you’re not on the hook for anything beyond your deductible amount, including copays and coinsurance costs.
Qualifying for one of these plans for limited-income Americans can be tricky. If you’re a dependent on your parents’ income tax return, their income will determine whether you get to enroll, not yours. But if you do qualify, you’ll get highly discounted medical coverage. When in doubt, apply — there’s no open enrollment period, and even if you can’t enroll in Medicaid benefits, you might find out in your application that you qualify for a subsidy that makes a traditional Marketplace plan more affordable.
Supplemental and Alternative Plans
No matter what kind of health insurance for students you choose, your plan probably isn’t going to cover everything. A supplemental or alternative insurance plan can fill the gaps in your coverage where you find them.
Maybe you missed open enrollment and need temporary coverage. In that case, short-term insurance might be able to step in and give you coverage until you have access to a more permanent solution. If you signed up for a school plan, you might find it won’t cover you if you end up in the hospital. Major illnesses, accidents and hospital stays aren’t cheap, but getting a critical illness and accident or hospital indemnity plan can help give you a financial escape route to avoid medical debt.
Monthly premiums for supplemental plans are usually pretty low, so if you end up not needing it, having the extra coverage won’t bankrupt you — and if you do need it, the plan will give you cash to soften the blow of any medical bills you end up with.
You’ve got a lot going on as a college student, and stressing about medical bills is the last thing you need to add to your plate. Be free to party until sunrise and study until sundown. If any of it results in a trip to the doctor, know that you’re covered.