What You Need to Know About Student Health Insurance

Many colleges and universities require students to enroll in a student health plan or provide proof of comparable health insurance.

Emily Guy Birken
Emily Guy Birken
  • Plutus Award winner

  • 12+ years writing about insurance and personal finance

Emily is a widely recognized expert on personal finance and has authored several personal finance books. She’s a frequent guest on national and regional media.

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Katie Powers
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Katie PowersAuto and Life Insurance Editor
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  • 3+ years experience in insurance and personal finance editing

Katie uses her knowledge and expertise as a licensed property and casualty agent in Massachusetts to help readers understand the complexities of insurance shopping.

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Updated March 15, 2023 at 12:00 PM PDT

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College enrollment comes with many decisions to make and paperwork to review, including information about school-provided student health insurance. While students who have coverage under their parents’ health insurance plans generally don’t need student health insurance, this coverage can be helpful for any uninsured students. This might include students older than 26, people attending school outside of their parents’ plan’s coverage area, and independent students.

Here’s what you need to know about student health insurance coverage to decide whether it’s right for you.

What is student health insurance?

Many colleges and universities require students to have health insurance as a condition of enrollment.[1] To ensure students obtain the health insurance coverage they need, many colleges and universities — including community, public, and private institutions — offer student health insurance plans. These plans provide health insurance coverage that meets the Affordable Care Act (ACA) guidelines for essential healthcare coverage.[2]

In many cases, student health insurance plans are opt-out plans, rather than opt-in plans. In other words, the college or university automatically signs students up for the student health plan unless they provide proof of other insurance. If you choose to opt out, schools generally require your health insurance to provide equal or greater coverage than the school student health insurance.

Do you need health insurance as a student?

Federal law doesn’t require people to purchase healthcare, but several states do, including California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Vermont. Though health insurance isn’t required, you should purchase health insurance — even if you’re a young, healthy student — because illness and injury can affect anyone. Health insurance makes medical care more affordable if and when you need routine or emergency care.

“Students studying and working at universities are subject to psychological challenges, with higher stress levels, fatigue, and exhaustion that can manifest into physical illnesses,” says Daniel Petkevich, founder and CEO of Fair Square Medicare. “Hospitalization costs, checkups, telehealth benefits, and medications can be expensive, and student insurance is a solution that offers parents an option to purchase coverage, protect their children, and minimize costly healthcare.”

Important Information

A gap in your health coverage could result in a pre-existing condition exclusion period. This can occur when you have a health condition prior to the enrollment date in a health plan. If you receive a diagnosis, treatment, or any medical advice related to the condition in the six months before you enroll and have a significant break in coverage, the insurer can limit or exclude coverage for your pre-existing condition for up to 12 months (or 18 months if you’re a late enrollee).[3]

Do I Need Health Insurance Coverage?

Do I Need Health Insurance Coverage?

Student health insurance options

Students have a few options for getting the health insurance coverage they need while at college. You can enroll in your school’s student health plan, remain on a parent’s health insurance, or apply for your own coverage through the ACA marketplace.

The best student health insurance option for you will depend on your age, family situation, location, and finances. Here’s what you can expect from each student health insurance option.

Student health plan

Most schools offer their student health insurance plan as an opt-out plan, rather than an opt-in one. To waive the coverage, you typically need to provide proof of comparable coverage on another health insurance plan. The costs vary among schools, but you can expect to pay around $2,000 to $3,000 annually for this coverage. This is a separate cost from your tuition.

Student health plans must provide the 10 essential benefits the ACA mandates, which include hospitalization, outpatient care, emergency services, preventive care, maternity and pediatric care, and prescription drugs, among other services.[4]

Stay on a parent’s insurance as a dependent

If you’re younger than 26, you can remain on a parent’s health insurance plan whether it’s employer-sponsored coverage or from the ACA marketplace. As long as the policy offers dependent child coverage, you can stay on the insurance, even if your parents no longer claim you as a dependent on their taxes.[5] This is often the least expensive option for student healthcare coverage. However, if you attend school in a different state from where your parents live, you need to check that their insurance policy will still cover you.[6]

“The parent’s insurance coverage often has limitations for dependents, such as partial medical coverage only for students living out of state,” says Petkevich. “Individual insurance may be a good alternative but may cost more than other plan options.”

Apply for insurance on your own

Applying for a policy through the healthcare marketplace could also provide you with the coverage you need at an affordable price. Whether you go to school in or out of state, you’ll apply for coverage in the state where you go to school. You’ll technically be included in your parents’ tax household (unless you’re over age 26), so the cost of your coverage will be based on the household income.

Normally, you can enroll only during the open enrollment period from Nov. 1 to Dec. 15 every year, but you may qualify for a special enrollment period when you move to or from your school.

But keep in mind that the insurance policies you can qualify for on your own don’t always have the best coverage compared to staying on a parent’s plan or enrolling in a student health plan from your school.

Student health insurance FAQs

Navigating student health insurance options can cause confusion. Find answers to some of the most common questions below.

  • Are student health plans cheaper than coverage from the Affordable Care Act?

    Determining whether student health insurance plans will be cheaper than policies purchased through the ACA marketplace will depend on a number of variables, many of which are highly individualized. When you know which school you’ll be attending, you should compare the annual cost of the school’s health insurance plan with the estimated cost through the marketplace to determine which costs less. You can check your estimated ACA coverage costs at HealthCare.gov.

    ACA policies offer four tiers of coverage that allow you to choose a basic or more robust policy depending on your needs.[7] While some student health insurance plans offer tiered coverage, most will likely present a singular option.

  • Do you need health insurance as a student?

    Many colleges make carrying health insurance a condition for student enrollment. Even if it’s not required, everyone benefits from health insurance because injury and illness can affect anyone.

  • How does health insurance work if you’re going to an out-of-state college?

    If you’re going to school out of state, you may be able to remain on a parent’s insurance policy if it offers coverage in the state where you attend college. But if it doesn’t, you can join your school’s student health plan or apply for ACA insurance in your school’s state.

  • Can you waive a student health plan offered by your college?

    Yes, your college or university will allow you to waive the student health plan if you can provide proof that you have comparable insurance coverage from another source. In many cases, you’ll have to opt out of the student health plan because students are often enrolled by default. Waiving this coverage can be the best decision if a parent’s insurance still covers you or if you find cheaper coverage through the ACA marketplace.

Sources

  1. Healthinsurance.org. "Student Health Insurance." Accessed March 2, 2023
  2. American College Health Association. "Frequently Asked Questions." Accessed March 2, 2023
  3. U.S. Department of Labor. "Health Benefits Advisor for Employers." Accessed March 2, 2023
  4. HealthCare.gov. "What Marketplace health insurance plans cover." Accessed March 2, 2023
  5. HealthCare.gov. "How to get or stay on a parent's plan." Accessed March 2, 2023
  6. HealthCare.gov. "In school? Student health plans & other options." Accessed March 2, 2023
  7. HealthCare.gov. "The health plan categories: Bronze, Silver, Gold & Platinum." Accessed March 2, 2023
Emily Guy Birken
Emily Guy Birken

Emily Guy Birken is a former educator, lifelong money nerd, and a Plutus Award-winning freelance writer who specializes in the scientific research behind irrational money behaviors. Her background in education allows her to make complex financial topics relatable and easily understood by the layperson.

Her work has appeared on The Huffington Post, Business Insider, Kiplinger's, MSN Money, and The Washington Post online.

She is the author of several books, including The 5 Years Before You Retire, End Financial Stress Now, and the brand new book Stacked: Your Super Serious Guide to Modern Money Management, written with Joe Saul-Sehy.

Emily lives in Milwaukee with her family.

Katie Powers
Edited byKatie PowersAuto and Life Insurance Editor
Photo of an Insurify author
Katie PowersAuto and Life Insurance Editor
  • Licensed auto and home insurance agent

  • 3+ years experience in insurance and personal finance editing

Katie uses her knowledge and expertise as a licensed property and casualty agent in Massachusetts to help readers understand the complexities of insurance shopping.

Featured in

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