Health Insurance for College Students in the USA

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College students lead busy lives, balancing classes, extracurricular activities, part-time jobs, and daily academic essay writing tasks. Amidst this hectic schedule, it’s important for students to prioritize getting health insurance.

Health insurance is necessary for several reasons. Firstly, many colleges require it, and secondly, it helps students stay healthy and avoid costly medical expenses.

Fortunately, many colleges offer student insurance plans, often included in the overall education bill. Alternatively, students can opt for their own insurance company and provide documentation to the college confirming coverage.

Choosing the right health insurance plan can be daunting due to the numerous options available. To help navigate this process, here are some tips to find the best health insurance for college students.

What is health insurance for students?

Health insurance for students is tailored to cover their medical expenses during their time in school. It includes coverage for various healthcare services such as doctor visits, prescription medications, and mental health services.

Despite being generally healthy, college students are still susceptible to illnesses or injuries, and medical expenses can accumulate quickly without insurance coverage. Thus, having health insurance is crucial for students to avoid financial strain from unexpected medical bills.

Parents’ Health Insurance Plan

College students often have the option to stay on their parents’ or guardians’ health insurance plan, which can be a convenient and cost-effective choice. This coverage typically extends until the student reaches the age of 26 and is commonly considered the best option for many students.

However, there are scenarios where alternative options may be more suitable. For instance, Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) plans usually require individuals to seek care from a specified network of healthcare providers. If a student attends college out of state and their parent’s plan is an HMO, they might not have access to in-network providers in the area. In such cases, exploring other insurance options becomes necessary.

On the other hand, if the parent’s plan is or can be switched to a Preferred Provider Organization (PPO), the student can still utilize the plan while enjoying more flexibility. PPOs typically allow individuals to receive care outside the network, albeit at a higher cost in terms of deductible, coinsurance, or copayment.

College-Sponsored Student Health Plans

Colleges and universities commonly provide health insurance options for students, which can be a beneficial choice due to their affordability compared to private health insurance plans. These college-sponsored plans typically adhere to the regulations set forth by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), ensuring coverage for essential healthcare services such as doctor visits, emergency care, hospitalization, prescription drugs, pregnancy and childbirth, mental health services, and more.

One advantage of these plans is that the cost of insurance can often be included in tuition fees, alleviating the need for separate monthly payments. However, if students opt to finance their health insurance through student loans, they may end up paying interest on the insurance premiums over time.

To find out if your school offers a health insurance plan, you can check the school’s website or reach out to the Student Services department for further information.

Affordable Care Act (ACA) Health Insurance

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) offers another avenue for college students to obtain health insurance coverage. ACA plans encompass a range of benefits, including preventive services, treatment for pre-existing conditions, and ten essential health benefits such as outpatient services, emergency care, laboratory services, care for pregnant women and newborns, pediatric services (including vision and dental care), hospitalization, preventive and wellness services, prescription drugs, mental health and substance use disorder treatment, and rehabilitation and habilitation services and devices.

These ACA health plans can be purchased during open enrollment periods. Special enrollment is also available under certain circumstances, such as experiencing a qualifying event like the loss of parental insurance coverage, changing jobs, or relocating to a different zip code. However, ACA plans may be costly for individuals who do not qualify for subsidies.

Most college students may not be eligible for ACA coverage if they are claimed as dependents on their parents’ tax returns, as their parents’ income is typically considered alongside theirs. Additionally, the ACA offers catastrophic health insurance plans specifically designed to shield individuals from significant medical expenses in the event of emergencies. These plans are typically accessible to individuals under age 30, unless they qualify for a hardship exemption.

While catastrophic plans cover some routine care, they may not be the best option for managing chronic conditions due to potentially high out-of-pocket costs.


If you have a low income, you may qualify for Medicaid, a government-provided health insurance program. Eligibility criteria differ by state, but generally, if your income falls below the federal poverty level, you may be eligible for Medicaid.

However, your eligibility hinges on your household income, which may include your parents’ earnings if you are claimed as a dependent. To ascertain whether you qualify for Medicaid, you can use the health insurance calculator available on

Spouse or domestic partner health insurance

Accessing health insurance through a spouse or domestic partner is an option for eligible individuals. Typically, this is a cost-effective method as employers often cover a significant portion of the health care expenses for employees. It’s important to note that eligibility requires being married or in a domestic partnership, and coverage is tied to the spouse’s or partner’s employment.

Why do you need health insurance in college?

Regarding the necessity of health insurance in college, many institutions mandate that students have coverage before commencing classes. Consequently, numerous colleges provide insurance plans specifically tailored for students in need of coverage.

Even if health insurance isn’t compulsory at a particular college, having it is crucial for maintaining health and safety while pursuing higher education. Unforeseen circumstances such as sports injuries, illnesses contracted from roommates, or allergic reactions can occur unexpectedly.

Student health insurance can mitigate the financial burden associated with medical expenses like doctor visits, prescription medications, and emergency services.

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