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Getting Ready for College or University? Don’t Forget Your Health Insurance

8/26/2015 10:14:43 AM


For Immediate Release:

When heading off to school this fall, health insurance may be one of the last things on the minds of college and university students. But having adequate insurance coverage is essential not only for a student’s good health, but also for peace of mind and financial security. 

While many colleges have long required that students be covered, federal law also now makes it mandatory that all individuals (with limited exceptions) have health insurance.

Before leaving for college, students and their parents should evaluate their insurance options and decide on the coverage that best fits their health status and financial circumstances.

Minnesota students have several choices for health coverage while attending college:

  • Parent’s health plan

  • College student health plan

  • Private individual health plan

  • Catastrophic health coverage

  • Medicaid (Medical Assistance)

  • MinnesotaCare

Parent’s Health Plan

A key feature of the Affordable Care Act allows children to be covered on their parents’ health insurance plans until they turn 26 (except for plans that don’t include dependent coverage). You can join or stay on your parent’s plan even if you’re a student and no longer living at home – and even if your parents no longer claim you as a dependent on their tax return. 

For many students and their families, this may be the most affordable, convenient and comprehensive coverage option.

However, if you are a student attending a college in a different city or state, you should carefully review the details of your parent’s health plan. Geographic coverage can be limited by a plan’s network of preferred health care providers. You could face additional costs if you use a provider outside of the plan’s approved network, and some insurers may not cover providers in other states.

If you intend to use your parent’s plan, it’s a good idea to directly contact the insurer in advance to confirm the availability of in-network providers near your campus, as well as to clarify any coverage limitations, restrictions or penalties that might apply.

College Student Health Plan

Students who don’t have health insurance through their parent’s policy (or who would have restricted coverage because of a lack of network providers near campus) may be able to purchase a student health insurance plan through their college.

Many colleges offer an insurance plan to their students. Some will even automatically enroll students in the plan unless they specifically “opt out” by waiving the coverage and showing proof of other insurance. If you purchase a student health plan, the premium may be billed with other education expenses, such as tuition, and it may be covered by financial aid or student loans. 

However, you should be aware that a student plan may have fewer benefits and more exclusions than traditional health insurance. You should carefully review the plan’s specific coverage in the context of your actual and potential health care needs. Also check to see if the student plan includes summer or year-round coverage, or if it is limited to the semesters when you’re attending school.

If your college has automatic enrollment in its student health plan but you have other coverage, make sure you submit the required waiver to “opt out” before the deadline. Otherwise, you will end up paying for coverage you don’t need.

Private Individual Health Plan

Another option is to buy your own private health plan in the individual insurance market, either through an online health insurance marketplace (or exchange) like MNsure or directly from an insurance company or agent.

Buying an insurance plan on your own has become a more attractive option because the Affordable Care Act no longer allows health insurance companies to deny you coverage or charge a higher premium if you have a pre-existing medical condition.

If you purchase a private health plan through an exchange, you may qualify for federal financial help that can lower the cost of your monthly insurance premium. When purchasing insurance through an exchange, you must apply for it in the state of your legal residence.

If you are interested in buying a private health plan, you need to pay attention to open enrollment and special enrollment periods. You can only buy a private plan during open enrollment or when you experience a “qualifying life event” for a special enrollment period.

The next open enrollment period begins November 1, 2015, and continues through January 31, 2016. Qualifying life events include losing coverage under an employer or parent's plan or moving to a new coverage area. If you're moving to a new city for college, you may experience a qualifying life event allowing you to shop outside of the open enrollment period. When purchasing a private health plan, be sure to check what date the coverage will begin to avoid any gaps in coverage from your prior insurance plan.

Catastrophic Health Coverage

If you are under age 30, you can buy a catastrophic health plan (also known as a minimum coverage plan). This type of plan has a lower monthly premium but a high deductible. This means you pay for most of your care yourself up to a certain amount (usually at least several thousand dollars). After that, the insurance company pays its share for covered services.

A catastrophic plan may offer some limited coverage for preventive and primary care. But it is primarily designed to protect you from very high medical costs in worst-case scenarios like serious accidents or illnesses. 

While the monthly premium for this type of plan may be relatively low, you can still be stuck with paying thousands of dollars in medical bills before you qualify for coverage from your insurance company.

Medicaid (Medical Assistance)

Some students may be able to apply for coverage through Medicaid, the federal-state program providing health insurance to people with limited incomes, disabilities and some family situations. (In Minnesota, it is known as Medical Assistance, or MA.)

If you are listed as a dependent on your parents' tax return, your eligibility is based on your family’s income. Otherwise, it is based on your own income. Currently, individuals with annual incomes of up to $15,654 qualify for Medical Assistance. If you apply for coverage through an online health insurance exchange like MNsure, your eligibility for Medicaid will automatically be determined.

Enrollment in Medical Assistance is allowed on a year-round basis. The program does not require you to pay a monthly premium, but there may be small co-payments for some health services.

MinnesotaCare

If you are a resident of Minnesota and a U.S. citizen or person with legal immigration status and you have an annual income of less than $23,340 ($47,700 or less for a family of four), you may qualify for health care coverage under MinnesotaCare.

MinnesotaCare is a public program that helps pay medical expenses for people whose incomes are too high for Medicaid and who don’t otherwise have access to affordable insurance. You will still be required to pay a small monthly premium.

MinnesotaCare pays for a variety of services like doctor visits, prescriptions and hospital stays. Enrollees get health care services through a health plan. You can choose your health plan from those serving MinnesotaCare enrollees in your county.

You can enroll in MinnesotaCare at any time throughout the year. If you apply for coverage through an online health insurance exchange like MNsure, your eligibility for MinnesotaCare will automatically be determined.

For more information

From MNsure (Minnesota’s online health insurance exchange) 
FAQ for Individuals and Families

From Healthcare.gov 
Health coverage for young adults

From National Association of Insurance Commissioners 
College Health Insurance Needs

______________________________________

Media Contact:

Ross Corson 
Director of Communications 
Minnesota Department of Commerce 
P: 651-539-1463 | C: 651-368-5050 | ross.corson@state.mn.us

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