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4 health insurance options for college students

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If you're a college student, you have several health insurance options. While many students stay on their parents' health insurance plans, others opt for choices like student health insurance plans or short-term health insurance plans.

When shopping around, the first step is to understand your school's health insurance requirements. As examples, they can vary depending on if you're a part- or full-time student, and they can also require you to be covered by a specific type of plan if you're enrolled and living on campus.

This is mind, let's walk through some of your options.

#1. Stay on your parents' plan

By law, you have the right to stay on your parent's health insurance plan until you turn 26 years old. If you're on your parents' insurance plan through their jobs, your coverage will end the month of your birthdate. But if your parents purchased insurance through the Health Insurance Marketplace, you will be covered until the end of the year.

Marketplace plans are government-mandated insurance plans that comply with the Affordable Care Act (ACA) requirements for individual and family health plans. Keep in mind that there's a set "open enrollment period" when you can add or drop health insurance. The specific dates vary from year to year, but the open enrollment period usually begins in November and ends in December in most states.

Note, some states offer extensions and allow individuals over age 26 to stay on their parent's insurance under certain conditions. Your state ACA marketplace can provide you with more information.

#2. Enroll in an ACA plan

The Affordable Care Act - also referred to as Obamacare - was signed into law by then-President Barack Obama in March 2010. It was enacted to ensure that every American has access to medical insurance, regardless of their medical history.

As a college student, you have the option to compare plans and sign up for insurance coverage through the ACA Health Insurance Marketplace.

Note, these plans are required to cover the 10 essential health benefits, so their level of coverage might be more extensive than some of the other options we're covering. As examples, an ACA plan might be a good choice if you have a specific medical condition like diabetes, or if you're pregnant or anticipate becoming pregnant.

#3. Look for student health insurance options

Another option for college students is a student health insurance plan offered through your college or university. These plans are generally inexpensive and offer a range of coverage options. You might even find this option appealing because it counts as a school associated fee, meaning it can be covered by student loans or other school funding.

You can check out your school's website, or contact your school's financial aid department to find out if student health insurance is available.

#4. Buy a short-term health insurance plan

Short-term health insurance plans tend to attract college students because they typically have a lower premium than other health insurance options - a good fit for college students on a budget.

But short-term plans can also have limited coverage. So if you're looking into a short-term plan, it's important to consider the full picture beyond the cost:

  • Doctor office copays: Are doctors office visits important to you?
  • Urgent care copays: Do you anticipate visiting an urgent care clinic during your coverage period?
  • Prescription drug benefits: Are you currently on medication?
  • Student-athlete accident benefits: If you're a college athlete, short term health insurance that does not cover intercollegiate sports?
  • Physical therapy benefits: Do you anticipate needing therapy in the future?

Not all short term health plans offer one or all of these benefits, though, so shop wisely. Depending on the plan, short-term health insurance provides coverage for preventive care, doctor visits, urgent care, and emergency care. And although many don't offer prescription drug coverage, they may offer prescription discount cards to help you with drug costs.

Another important variable to weigh is whether or not you have a pre-existing health condition. If you do have one, you can be denied short-term health coverage. Though some short-term providers may allow you to buy a plan, but you'll have to pay out-of-pocket for any medical treatment you receive as a result of a pre-existing condition. And these additional out-of-pocket expenses coupled with the policy premium can quickly add up.

In 2018, the Kaiser Family Foundation issued the following stats about short-term plans:

  • 43% didn’t cover mental health services
  • 62% didn’t cover substance abuse treatment
  • 71% didn’t cover outpatient prescription drugs
  • None of the plans covered maternity care

So it's good to know the facts. But while short-term health insurance plans don't cover everything, they do have several benefits:

  • There's no enrollment period. You can enroll at any time, and coverage can begin as soon as the next day.
  • They have a flexible length of coverage. Your coverage period can range from one month to 364 days, with policy renewal of up to three years, depending on your state’s rules.
  • They're a security blanket. Short-term plans will cover you in the event of an accident or illness, so you aren't faced with paying large medical bills out of pocket.
  • They're widely accepted among health professionals. You should be able to find health professionals who accept short-term insurance plans. Some insurance carriers have a preferred network with special negotiated pricing and an extensive network of physicians.
  • They offer choice. You can typically select providers and physician services you're already familiar with, depending on plan options. Some states even offer short-term health insurance for up to three years, so you may be able to lock in guaranteed renewability if the insurance company offers it.

Short-term health insurance coverage can vary depending on age, state, and gender, so what works for one person may not be a good option for the next.

Keep in mind that short-term health coverage is currently not offered in 10 states, but you can shop around to find other insurance plans are available in your area. Also, plan rules like coverage and renewal terms, coverage for pre-existing conditions, and coverage for specific medical services vary state-by-state, so getting a personalized quote is an important part of the process.

Interested in getting a quote?

Getting a quote is an easy, hassle-free task. For starters, you're not required to commit to a short-term health insurance plan when getting a quote, and there's no contract involved once you do apply.

After answering a few basic questions, you'll learn about specific coverage options available in your area - a good tool especially if you're going to college out of state. Then, you should take time to look over the information, talk it over with your parents/family, and pick the plan that works for you.

Choosing health insurance might be one of your first major financial decisions in life, so we're here to help you make an informed choice.

Our plan comparison tool gives you the power to search for plan options and set filters based on the monthly costs, deductibles, and benefit maximums. Shop around to get the right coverage and price that works for you.

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Short Term Insurance 

  • ACA (Obamacare)

  • Medicare

  • Short Term Insurance

  • Hospital Indemnity Plans

  • Dental

  • Telemedicine

Get a Free Quote

Short Term Insurance 

  • ACA (Obamacare)

  • Medicare

  • Short Term Insurance

  • Hospital Indemnity Plans

  • Dental

  • Telemedicine