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Health Insurance Options for College Students

Aug 18, 2007
By the time graduation caps are tossed into the air, high school students will probably have been accepted to a college, picked a dorm and signed up for their courses. But is their health insurance securely in place?

Most parents' employee-sponsored group health insurance plans will cover their children up until they're between 20 to 24 years of age, whether they live at home or away at school. The employer, however, may charge a substantial extra premium to cover the college age student.

If you don't have any health insurance as a student, college health plans could be a good solution. College-sponsored individual health insurance plans at some schools are subsidized by tuition, so they might even be a good deal. It's important to note that even when college health plans are subsidized, they are not necessarily subsidized for the student's spouse or dependents.

Be forewarned, however, that college plans are not free and the benefits vary. Committees from each college meet with health insurance companies and design plans specific to their schools. State laws also play a critical role in the health insurance policies offered to students, as well as other market factors. As a result, there exists a wide range of premiums and benefits that vary from college to college.

College plans sometimes limit preventative and routine care, but students can often visit college health centers for free services. Even when visits to the health center are free, the health center may charge the student for lab work, physical therapy, X-rays, prescriptions, and other procedures.

In most cases, college plans will pay 100 percent for college health center charges associated with covered services with a nominal deductible. For services outside the health center, however, including those provided by out-of-state providers, the college plan may reduce significantly and impose a larger deductible. Furthermore the college plan may have a limited maximum benefit, which will leave the student without coverage if something truly terrible happens.

Pre-existing conditions can create problems as well. College plans may exclude pre-existing conditions from treatment. Before signing up for a college health plan, make sure you know whether the plan will or will not cover treatment for your asthma or any other pre-existing condition.

Parents in preferred network plans and HMO's often buy a college's health insurance plan even when their student is covered under their employer's plan because anything other than emergency care may be considered out of network or because of the problem of obtaining referrals across states.

Cost, and the problems with network restrictions and referrals, shouldn't prevent the student from having health insurance, whether it's their parent's plan or the school's plan. A serious illness or injury could have long-lasting negative financial consequences for the student, the parent, or both.

Before you make a choice, put your college health plan to the test:
- Is the plan an HMO, or can you use any provider?
- Does the plan cover emergency room visits without prior approval?
- What needs to be done to ensure coverage if there's an emergency?
- Is there coverage while you are on vacation?
- Can you get coverage during summer break, even if you're not taking classes?
- Does the plan make accessible the best treatment facilities within the college's community?
- Which campus health clinic services are free or offered at low cost?
- Are there pre-existing conditions that are excluded?

In Texas, dependant status is available for full-time students until you are 25 years old (or older in limited cases). Texas state law puts the maximum age for dependants at 19 if you are not enrolled in an educational institution. If you're between the ages of 20 to 24 and the college health plan at the school you're attending in Dallas, Houston or anywhere else in Texas doesn't cover one or more of the above issues, you should consider other individual health insurance options. And when you graduate and are no longer covered under your parent's health insurance plan what will you do then?

There's a lot you and your parents should consider regarding proper health care insurance while you're attending school and after you graduate.
About the Author
Pat Carpenter writes for Precedent Insurance Company. Precedent puts a new spin on health insurance. Learn more at Precedent.com
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