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Health Insurance Options for California Students

If you’re in the two-thirds of high school graduates in America who decide to attend college, making the transition to this new chapter of your life can be exciting and also sometimes daunting. Sometimes, it involves moving away from home for the first time, leaving behind family, friends, pets and everything familiar. For many young people, college marks their transition to adulthood and financial independence. Part of this independence involves making responsible choices about health care.

Amid all the shopping for textbooks and dorm room decor and hearing old stories from family and friends about their college days, it can be easy to forget all about health insurance — that is, until you need to see a doctor. Before you pack the car for move-in day, make sure you have a plan for where your health insurance is coming from.

If you or your child is a California student who is getting ready to start college, this post is for you. We’re going to look at why college students need health insurance and what various options Californian college students should consider for health insurance. We’ll look at four main choices for insurance: your parents’ plan, a student health plan, a marketplace policy or a Medi-Cal plan.

Why Do College Students Need Health Insurance?

So, why do students need health insurance in the first place? Until recently, one reason was the individual mandate. The Affordable Care Act instituted this mandate, which, as of 2014, required Americans to have at least a minimal level of health insurance. Anyone who could afford coverage but chose not to purchase a policy would have to pay a fine when they filed their taxes. However, as of 2019, this financial penalty no longer applies.

While the U.S. government will no longer enforce the requirement to have health insurance, some colleges and universities — including California institutions — require students to have health insurance coverage. To see if this is the case at a college you’re considering attending, check with the admissions office.

Mandatory requirements aren’t the only reason to consider health insurance for students. Having health insurance gives students and parents alike peace of mind knowing that, if an unfortunate circumstance like a severe illness or injury occurs, it won’t result in a sudden financial burden. Though you may feel young and healthy, that doesn’t make you immune to common or even rare medical issues.

Furthermore, having health insurance is likely to encourage students to get regular checkups and visit the doctor when necessary. Unfortunately, a lack of health insurance can be a deterrent that keeps some people from seeking medical care. For young adults, specifically, research shows being uninsured makes you more likely to not fill prescriptions, skip recommended tests and treatments, not visit a doctor or clinic when you have a medical problem and forgo necessary specialist care.

Now that we’ve looked at some of the reasons you may want to have health insurance as a college student, let’s look at four main options students have to consider for obtaining coverage.

1. Stick With Your Parents’ Insurance

If you are under 26 and one or both of your parents has health insurance through Covered California that includes coverage for their dependents, you may want to remain under their coverage. If you are no longer a tax dependent and even if you are married, your parents’ insurance can still cover you until age 26 in most cases. Sticking with a parent’s health insurance policy is often the best option for students who attend college in their home state of California.

However, if you’re moving to another state for college, this may not be the wisest choice. While you don’t forfeit your coverage by moving away, your insurance company’s preferred network won’t travel with you. No plans offered through Covered California include hospitals, doctors or other health care providers outside of California in their network. If you attend college out of state, you would have to travel home to receive treatment from a provider in your network.

Some students make this work by scheduling routine doctor appointments and procedures for times when they plan to be home, such as during school breaks. Of course, this plan only works if you go home for breaks, which means you’ll have to deny your wanderlust until after college. You may love going home for breaks, but when you visit the doctor during your time at home, it takes away from time you’d probably rather be spending relaxing with your family or catching up on sleep.

Aside from these inconveniences, the main problem with this plan is that sometimes, when you need medical care, it’s impractical or unwise to wait until a trip home to receive it. If you get sick or injured and need to see a doctor right away, you may end up having to go somewhere near your college and pay out of pocket for the treatment you receive. However, if you need emergency medical services while away at school, these services will be covered by your parents’ Covered California plan at the in-network price, regardless of which state or city you’re in.

We’ve looked at some of the disadvantages of this option, but what makes this option a good one to consider? One of the main advantages of this option is that it doesn’t involve the time, effort and financial commitment getting your own plan would. You may still have to pay a deductible when you go to the doctor, but you won’t have to pay your premium. That said, Mom and Dad may not be opposed to you pitching in a bit.

To find out if remaining under your parents’ health insurance coverage is the best option for you, find out more about their specific plan.

2. Purchase a Student Health Plan from Your School

If you don’t stay with your parents’ insurance policy, you’ll want to seek coverage elsewhere. One option to consider is an insurance plan for students. Many schools offer student health plans. As the name suggests, these plans have your demographic in mind. They are for full-time college students who are in their late teens through 20s. While colleges and universities offer these plans to their students, they are typically altogether different from the group health insurance universities make available to their faculty and staff.

One of the potential benefits of this plan is that your student loans can help pay for it. That’s because schools often include your premiums with other school expenses, like tuition and room and board. If you need health insurance but your budget is tight, this can be a helpful aspect of student health insurance.

A downside is that, sometimes, the plan requires paying your premium in one lump sum, rather than distributing it monthly or quarterly. However, if your student loan is covering the cost for the time being, this shouldn’t affect you. Regardless of how your premium is distributed, premiums for student health plans tend to be lower than plans on the national health insurance marketplace. Your deductibles will also likely be lower.

Health insurance companies can offer insurance plans for students at a lower cost in part because they are only for a younger population that is statistically healthier. While you may have experienced paying more for auto insurance because of your age, with health insurance, your age is a benefit rather than a liability.

Some student health plans offer especially good coverage for school clinics, which is likely the most convenient place for you to receive care. However, they won’t limit you to exclusively school-sponsored medical facilities. You can also check out other medical services that are in your student health network. If you’re traveling, some student health plans offer a more extensive national network of medical services. You may also have the option to use telehealth services.

It’s important to note that school-sponsored student health plans should keep you covered all year, not just during the school year. However, if you attend a university outside of California, and the plan they offer limits you to an in-state network, this can cause an inconvenience when you’re home for winter or summer break.

If you’re interested in purchasing a student health insurance policy through your institution, make sure you understand the details of the particular plan they offer so you can determine if it’s the right fit for you.

3. Purchase Your Own Health Insurance Policy

If you don’t want to stay on your parents’ insurance, and your university either doesn’t offer a student health plan or you don’t like the plan they offer, you may want to purchase your insurance policy the conventional way: through the marketplace. If you are attending school in another state, you’ll likely want to purchase a policy through that state’s marketplace. If you are attending school in California, you’ll purchase your policy through the California Marketplace, known as the Medical Insurance Exchange of California.

To purchase a plan, you will go through an application process that asks about your health history, income and other important factors that will determine what level of coverage and price point you qualify for.

As a student, even if you’re working, it’s likely your income is low. If so, you may qualify for government assistance in the form of tax credits or lower premiums that help make a marketplace health insurance plan more affordable to you. Keep in mind, however, that you won’t qualify for savings based on your low income if your parents claim you as a dependent on their taxes.

When you’re shopping for a marketplace plan, there are many different providers and plans to consider. The two most common types of plans are HMO, which stands for health maintenance organization, and PPO, which stands for preferred provider organization. HMO plans tend to cost less than PPO plans. With an HMO plan, your primary care physician must refer you if you need specialized care. PPO plans, the more expensive option, offer more flexibility since you don’t need a referral to see a specialist.

Health insurance companies offer plans that fit into four levels of coverage: bronze, silver, gold and platinum. With so many options, make sure you select the plan that best fits your budget and health care needs. It’s also essential to coordinate with your parents to make sure you are consistent in either considering yourself a tax dependent or not.

If you want a lower level of coverage that costs less, you may be able to purchase a special kind of plan called a catastrophic health plan. In most cases, these plans are only available to people under 30. These plans have low premiums and a high deductible since they are designed to protect you from potential worst-case scenarios that could result in extremely high medical costs if you had to pay for them out-of-pocket.

Make sure you understand the details of each plan you qualify for when you’ve applied, and select the plan that’s best for you.

4. Get Covered Through Medicaid

If you are concerned about paying for your health insurance, there’s another essential option to explore: You may be able to get California student health insurance through Medicaid. Medicaid is a federal and state government program intended to help people with limited financial resources obtain health insurance. Before the passage of the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid was only available to a select few, but it has since expanded. Many states now offer Medicaid to individuals who wouldn’t have previously qualified.

If your parents still claim you as a tax dependent, you won’t qualify for Medicaid on your own, though your family can also apply for Medicaid if your household income is low. If you are financially independent, you may qualify for help on your own.

California’s Medicaid program is called Medi-Cal. Currently, in California, if your annual income is 138 percent of the poverty level, which is currently $16,395 or less, you could qualify. The government also takes other factors into account, such as pregnancies, children or disabilities. If you have a child, they may be able to receive health insurance coverage through the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Over 72 million Americans receive coverage through Medicaid. If you’re unsure whether you would qualify, there is no harm in applying. That is typically the best way to know definitively what sort of help, if any, you qualify for. Make sure to compare your options, since you may be better off purchasing a lower-level plan through the marketplace, such as a bronze plan, if you qualify for government assistance to help you pay for it.

Get Started With Health for California

As we’ve seen, there are plenty of options to consider to make sure you get the health care coverage you need as a college student. College students have enough worries with exams, papers and adjusting to being more independent. Don’t make a lack of health insurance one of your concerns. Before you start school, take steps to find the best solution to your health care needs.

For health insurance for California students, a great way to get started is with a free quote from Health for California. All you have to do is fill out relevant information about yourself, and we’ll provide you with a quote that includes plans from various carriers, lets you know what price you would pay and what subsidies you may qualify for. Get started today and enjoy peace of mind that you’ll be taking excellent care of your health, even while you’re in college.

Not sure how Obamacare affects your health care plans in California? Learn how the ACA works in California, including benefits, costs and enrollment.

Covered California is the Golden State’s official health exchange marketplace where individuals, families and small businesses can find high-quality, low-cost California government health insurance.

Learn about Obamacare income guidelines in California using our income limits chart, and see if you’re eligible for government assistance.

Learn about the Covered California website. Find easy online enrollment. Set up your account, log in, buy insurance and more on the California health marketplace website.