Health & Safety

Health insurance for college students

By Suzanne Shaffer

Most colleges require that students carry health insurance, and college students are subject to the “individual coverage mandate” of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

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High School Parent | College Parent

What are your options for making sure your student continues to be well covered for preventive care, major illnesses, and in case of emergencies?

Your current health insurance

The ACA allows your student to stay on your healthcare plan until the age of 26 even if she has a pre-existing condition. This may be the best option for your student’s health insurance needs. It can save time and money during the college years and also during those first few post-college years as she is getting situated financially.

Be aware that different states have different laws regarding coverage requirements. If your student attends school in another state, before being allowed to waive the student health insurance plan offered by the college, you may need to provide proof that your insurance will cover your out-of-area student at an acceptable level. Start this process early in the summer so that the paperwork is ready in time for fall registration.

Student health plans

Most accredited colleges and universities offer student health insurance plans at reduced rates until graduation. With the implementation of the ACA, these plans will cover pre-existing conditions, as well as a host of other services such as emergency medical treatment, prescription drug coverage and mental health coverage. Typically, student health insurance plans allow your student to receive care at the university health center for free, with co-pays when accessing off-campus providers.

When researching plans on the school website, make sure to find out how coverage works when your student isn’t on campus (for example, during vacations). Student health insurance plans satisfy the “minimum essential health coverage” mandated by the ACA.

Catastrophic insurance

If your student is enrolled at a 2-year college or online, student health plans will not be available. Your student might opt for a catastrophic insurance plan designed to protect your finances in the event of a major medical expense like surgery. These plans are inexpensive but omit the benefits of routine health services, annual checkups and prescription coverage. This type of insurance is considered high risk even though it is low cost.

Insurance exchanges

As a result of the ACA, your student is eligible to purchase insurance through’s “Health Insurance Marketplace.” The government offers tax subsidies to qualifying adults — when your student signs up for a plan, her payment will be calculated along with the subsidies she can receive based on annual income. The healthcare exchanges may cover your student at a lower rate than what you are paying to include her on your plan.

Because of the Affordable Care Act, there will be a tax penalty for anyone who is not insured. Your college student needs health insurance when entering college. Choose the option that best suits your budget and your student’s health needs.

Did you enjoy reading this article? Sign up for UniversityParent’s weekly eNewsletter and purchase the Guide to Supporting Your Student’s Freshman Year for additional tips, insight, and to help your college student succeed. You may also add to the discussion and get feedback from fellow college parents by joining our College Parents’ Facebook group.

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