When you’re young and in school, health insurance is the last of your worries. But as a college student, it’s important that you have coverage in case of emergencies so you’re not saddled with more debt. Young adults have the highest uninsured rate of any group; in fact, about 30% of young adults don’t have insurance coverage, leaving them in jeopardy if they face medical bills.
The average cost to fix a broken leg is $7,500, while the average cost of a three-day hospital stay is a staggering $30,000. Without health insurance, you’re stuck covering the entire bill on your own.
When you’re in college, you have multiple options to get health insurance, including coverage from your parents' plan or school-offered insurance. But if you don’t have access to those types of policies, you can get coverage on your own. To help you find the best insurance plan for your needs, we examined 17 health insurance options and companies and evaluated them based on plan cost, coverage options, and provider network. These are our selections for the best insurance plans for college students
The 5 Best Health Insurance for College Students in 2020
Best Overall: Cigna
Your best option for health insurance as a college student is Cigna because of its coverage options and cost. The majority of Cigna customers receive financial help with their premiums, with more than half paying less than $100 per month.
Comprehensive coverage options
Some students may qualify for premium subsidies
Free preventative care and $0 virtual care
Subsidies may not be available if you’re a dependent
You may need to find a new healthcare provider
Cigna plans, purchased through its website or Healthcare.gov, always cover pre-existing conditions, and as a college student, you may be eligible for subsidies that make insurance much more affordable. According to the company, three out of four Cigna customers qualify for financial assistance. As a student, you likely don’t have much income. If that’s the case, you could qualify for premium subsidies that make your plan more affordable.
Cigna’s plans are divided by tiers, ranging from bronze to platinum policies. Bronze plans are the most affordable, while platinum plans have low deductibles but higher monthly premiums. All of Cigna’s plans include $0 preventative care, so you can get an annual checkup, flu shot, and health screenings without paying extra money. And, Cigna offers $0 virtual care, allowing you to connect with a board-certified doctor via phone or video chat at no additional cost. Cigna’s comprehensive coverage offers more benefits for less money, making it our overall top choice.
While some students may qualify for subsidies with Cigna, not all college students will. Subsidies are based on your household income. If you’re a dependent and your parents earn too much income, you may not be eligible for a subsidy and will have to pay the full monthly premium.
When you purchase insurance from Cigna, you can choose between HMO plans where you have to stay within the network or PPO plans which give you more flexibility. Depending on what plan you choose, you may have to change healthcare providers. If your current doctor isn’t part of the plan’s HMO, for example, you’ll need a new physician or the insurance won’t cover your office visits.
If you have pre-existing health conditions or regularly need medical care, purchasing insurance from Cigna is the best choice for coverage since you can qualify for significant discounts and get free preventative and virtual care. It also has a good reputation, with an A (Excellent) rating from AM Best.
Best for Low-Income Students: Aetna
If you’re a low-income student, our top pick for health insurance is to purchase a catastrophic insurance policy through Aetna. With Aetna’s catastrophic plans, you’ll get coverage against major emergencies at a low cost.
Relatively low premiums
Covers some preventative services and primary care visits at no cost
Financial protection for medical emergencies
High monthly deductibles
Not available in all states
If you’re a college student on a very tight budget, Aetna’s catastrophic plans can be a smart solution. Catastrophic plans can be purchased through the federal Health Insurance Marketplace. They have relatively low monthly premiums compared to traditional insurance plans, making them useful for low-income students.
Aetna has a strong reputation in the insurance industry, too. In 2019, AM Best awarded Aetna an A (Excellent) rating.
Catastrophic plans from Aetna cover some preventative services, such as shots and screenings, and three primary care physician visits a year at no additional cost. Catastrophic plans do have high deductibles—$8,150 for 2020—but provide coverage against major emergencies that can cost thousands of dollars, such as illnesses or injuries that require hospital stays.
Unlike other insurance plans purchased through the Health Insurance Marketplace, catastrophic plans are not eligible for the premium tax credit subsidy, so you’ll have to pay for your monthly premiums entirely on your own.
Catastrophic plans from Aetna are not available in all states. To qualify for a catastrophic plan, you must be under 30 or meet the criteria for a hardship exemption.
If you are a low-income college student and are ineligible for Medicaid or premium subsidies, a catastrophic plan from Aetna gives you essential coverage at a low cost. Once you reach your deductible, Aetna will cover 100% of most services, protecting you in case you need extensive medical care.
Best Short-Term Coverage: Everest
If you’re looking for a short-term insurance policy, consider Everest Insurance. With Everest, you aren’t confined within a fixed provider network, and wellness benefits cover preventative care.
Low copay and coinsurance options
Free-look period applies
Multiple coverage period maximums available
Does not include prescription drug coverage
Pre-existing conditions are not covered
Not available in all states
Short-term insurance policies can be an affordable alternative to traditional health insurance for college students. With a short-term policy, you can get temporary coverage for less than the cost of a private insurance plan.
Everest offers short-term insurance plans with customizable options making it the best choice for short-term coverage. You can choose a deductible ranging from $1,000 to $10,000 and a copay between $30 and $50, helping you adjust your premium to meet your budget. You can also choose your own coverage maximum. Depending on your needs, you can choose a limit of $250,000 to $1.5 million.
However, Everest’s short-term policies have some drawbacks. They do not include prescription drug coverage, vision care, or dental services. If you have a pre-existing condition, your policy will not cover your treatments. Because of these restrictions, Everest’s plans are best for college students who are in good health without ongoing medical needs.
Everest is not available to residents in all states; If you live in a state where Everest doesn’t operate, you’ll have to find another insurer.
Everest has an A+ (Superior) ranking from AM Best, indicating that the company is financially stable and able to meet its contractual obligations.
Everest is our choice as the best short-term insurer for college students because of its deductible, copay, and coinsurance options, and because it offers wellness and mental health benefits.
Best for International Students: IMG
IMG is our top pick for international students because of its multiple plan options, high maximum limits, and the ability to opt for a low deductible. It also offers maternity coverage and mental health coverage.
Plans have maximum limits as high as $5 million
Multiple add-ons and riders available
Includes prescription drug coverage
Coverage doesn’t begin for pre-existing conditions until after 12 months
Not ranked by J.D. Power
Lower-tier options do not comply with J1 and J2 visa requirements
If you’re an international student studying in the United States, getting quality health insurance is important. If you become ill or are in an accident, medical care can be prohibitively expensive.
Underwritten by the Sirius International Insurance Corporation, IMG has multiple insurance plans for international students that you can customize to meet various needs. Its plans also include prescription drug coverage, allowing you to get necessary medications while in the United States.
IMG allows you to add different coverage options and riders to your policy for an additional cost. Add-on coverage protects you from the loss or theft of your baggage, valuables, and personal papers. It also provides personal liability protection.
If you add the adventure sports rider to your policy, you’ll get coverage if you engage in any dangerous sports, such as bobsledding, parachuting, whitewater kayaking, or windsurfing.
Depending on what plan you choose, you can opt for a maximum limit ranging from $50,000 to $5 million. However, you should be aware that plans with a $50,000 limit do not comply with J1 and J1 visa requirements.
If you have a pre-existing condition, such as a chronic illness, treatments for that condition are not covered until your coverage has been in place for 12 months, and then is subject to a lower maximum limit.
While IMG is not included in the J.D. Power Commercial Member Health Plan Study, its parent company has an A- (Excellent) rating from AM Best.
If you are an international student planning on studying in the U.S., IMG is an excellent coverage option because of its customizable insurance plans and high maximum limits.
Best for Convenient Access: School-Offered Insurance
School-offered insurance plans are our top pick for students who are looking for convenience, affordability, and don’t want to be overwhelmed by options.
You can use financial aid to pay your premiums
Coverage can be used at on-campus health centers
Plans are often cheaper than outside policies
Coverage options may be limited
You may have to be a full-time student to qualify
You may not be able to keep your current healthcare providers
School-provided insurance policies typically cost between $1,500 and $2,500 per year. That’s significantly cheaper than the average annual premium for an individual with non-school coverage. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the average annual premium for single coverage through a non-school provider is $7,188.
School insurance plan premiums are typically tacked onto your tuition and fees, so you can use financial aid to pay for your insurance premiums. With a school-offered plan, you can use your coverage at student health centers on-campus, making it convenient when you’re ill.
However, school plans can vary widely in terms of coverage options and networks. You may not be able to customize your plan, and you may not be able to visit your current healthcare providers because they aren’t in-network. Additionally, you may have to maintain full-time student status to keep your coverage. If you need to take a break from school or decide to drop down to half-time status, you’ll have to find other insurance.
Despite its drawbacks, school-provided insurance plans are a good choice for students looking for an affordable option with an easy enrollment process. They eliminate the need to shop around, and ensure that you have coverage while in school.
What Is Health Insurance for Students?
With health insurance, you pay a company a monthly sum—your premium. In return, the company agrees to cover a percentage of your health care costs, such as doctor visits, prescription medications, or hospital stays.
A common myth is that college students don’t need health insurance because they’re young and generally healthy. But one in six young adults has a chronic health condition, and nearly half of young adults report problems affording their medical bills. Getting health coverage is an essential safeguard for your finances.
As a college student, you have the following insurance options:
- Insurance through your parents: If you are under the age of 26, you can join your parents’ health insurance plan.
- School-offered coverage: Many colleges offer insurance plans for incoming students.
- Insurance through the Health Insurance Marketplace: You can enroll in an insurance plan on Healthcare.gov. Depending on your income, you may qualify for subsidies that make coverage more affordable, or you can purchase an inexpensive catastrophic plan.
- Medicaid: Depending on your income and location, you may be eligible for Medicaid, the federal insurance program for low-income individuals. You can apply for coverage through your state Medicaid agency.
- Private plans: You may also opt for an insurance plan offered by a private insurance company. These plans may or may not meet the requirements of the ACA, but can provide coverage against major accidents or illnesses.
Can College Students Use Their Parents’ Health Insurance?
Under the Affordable Care Act, college students and young adults can stay on their parents’ health insurance policies until they turn 26 years old. You can join or remain on your parents’ plan even if you are married, live separately from your parents, or are financially independent.
Getting coverage through your parents’ plan can be beneficial because you can continue seeing your current healthcare providers, you may get access to more comprehensive coverage than you’d get on your own, and adding a family member to an existing policy may be cheaper than getting individual coverage.
You can be added to your parents’ policy during the annual Open Enrollment period, or you may qualify for Special Enrollment if you lose your existing healthcare coverage.
When you turn 26, you’re no longer eligible for your parents’ coverage, and you’ll have to get insurance on your own.
What Does Health Insurance for College Students Cost?
How much health insurance costs as a college student is dependent on your income, state, and student status.
For example, low-income students who qualify for Medicaid may pay $0 per month for coverage, while school-offered insurance typically costs between $1,500 and $2,500 per year.
If you opt for a plan from the Health Insurance Marketplace, your premiums are based on your tier and deductible. If you fall within certain income requirements, you may be eligible for subsidies that reduce your cost.
How We Chose the Best Health Insurance for College Students
To identify the best health insurance for college students, we looked at multiple options, including Medicaid, Health Insurance Marketplace plans, school-offered insurance, short-term policies, and insurance offered by private companies. In total, we looked at 17 different options and evaluated them based on their total annual cost, availability, provider network, and financial stability rating. Because college students are typically on a tight budget, particular attention was paid to plans that offered low premiums and comprehensive coverage.
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