While all Americans are struggling to control expenses during the recession, college-age students are especially cash strapped. Not only are they faced with day-to-day living expenses, but also the specter of years and years of paying off student loans. Affordable health insurance has long fallen through the cracks for this group. Here are ten facts and options to consider about this topic:
● Currently some 2 million college-aged students have no health insurance whatsoever, yet they annually accrue more than $200 million in heath care costs. Those expenses are either covered out of their own pockets, or more likely by their parents.
● The American College Health Association recommends that college students be covered by comprehensive insurance that includes components for preventive care, long-term illness, and prescription medication.
● Federal health reform has helped the 18 to 26 age bracket. Adult children can remain on their parents’ policy until age 26, including those who claim independent status to qualify for financial aid programs.
● If there is no family health plan on which to draw, about 50 percent of colleges and universities offer some kind of coverage to their students at an annual cost of about $900 for about $50,000 in potential benefits.
● If paying for private insurance is not possible, students can find a part-time job with health benefits. Many national retail chains will over health benefits to employees who work 20+ hours.
● If you leave a job with health insurance, remember that the federal COBRA law allows you to remain on that health plan for at least 18 months as long as you take over the full premiums. That can be expensive in the long term, but in the short term, it will fill the “gap” in your coverage.
● Many struggling students can qualify for Medicaid coverage. If the family has a low income, or if the student has a disability, this may be an option. Health care reform is expanding Medicaid eligibility to all Americans under 65 with an income up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level. This includes adults who did not have dependent children.
● Don’t rule out state-managed high risk insurance pools. These programs are for individuals who do not qualify for Medicaid, cannot pay for private health insurance, or who have been denied private insurance. It’s at least worth a call to your state insurance department or a visit to their website.
● Community health centers can be a very sound emergency measure. Funded by the federal government, these centers provide health care to people with no health coverage on a sliding scale of fees based on income. They normally provide treatment for minor illnesses and have dental clinics and pharmacies on site.
● All colleges have infirmaries that can address minor health issues like colds, cuts, or even simple broken bones. Generally students are responsible for the cost of any medications prescribed and for specific tests run or services performed, but this varies by institution.
Of course, the optimal situation is to find cheap health insurance when you are a student. The critical consideration, however, is to have some degree of protection or at least a low-cost “plan B” in place. Medical debt on top of student loans is a sure recipe for financial disaster than can take years to resolve.