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College students have many health plan choices

The Affordable Care Act is offering more health coverage choices to young adults, including college and graduate students, said Jen Mishory, deputy director of Young Invincibles, a group focused on economic issues affecting young Americans.

"There's going to be options out there to compare and contrast and figure out," she said.

For starters, if you're under 26 and your parents have health insurance that offers coverage for family members, the law allows you to stay on their plan in many cases. The government says that more than 3 million people have already gained coverage as a result of this provision. It applies even if you are financially independent and whether you are single or married. Costs are going up, though, as some plans now charge an additional premium for family members added to the plan.

College students have to consider other twists, too. Suppose your parents' plan requires that you use a local network of doctors, but you're attending school out of state. Martin Rosen, co-founder of Health Advocate Inc., said you should review your parents' plan before relying on it for coverage during college. If it is a health maintenance organization or preferred-provider plan and you seek care out of network, he said, "you're going to have less coverage, or you'll pay more money for it."

In that case, you may want to consider a health plan offered by your college. While student plans have until January to provide the full menu of "essential" health benefits mandated by the Affordable Care Act, many colleges are already offering plans that meet the requirements, said Jennifer Haubenreiser, immediate past president of the American College Health Association.

While benefits in student plans are expanding because of the law, premiums are increasing, too, said Stephen Beckley, a college insurance consultant in Fort Collins, Colo. The average annual premium for a student plan at a private four-year college is now about $2,200.

So for comparison, you may want to look at policies available on the new exchanges in October to see if you can find a cheaper plan.

Coverage purchased on the exchange would start in January. If you already have school coverage for the fall, the ability to switch plans in midyear depends on your school.

Many private four-year colleges automatically enroll students in their health plans, but allow students to opt out if they are covered under a comparable plan.

One possible advantage of school plans is that they typically are considered an education cost for financial aid purposes, so their cost often may be wrapped into a student's aid package.

Questions to ask

Can I choose between my parents' plan and the exchanges?

If you're financially dependent on your parents and qualify for coverage under their health plan, you're generally not eligible for subsidized coverage on the exchanges.

How can I get coverage on the exchanges at a minimal premium?

The exchanges will offer "catastrophic" plans for young people, which offer preventive care and carry low premiums, but have higher out-of-pocket costs. There's a question, however, about whether such plans will meet some colleges' minimum coverage requirements.

Aside from my parents' plan and the exchanges, are there other low-cost options?

One possibility may be Medicaid, the federal-state insurance program for low-income people. Traditionally, Medicaid coverage has been limited to children, pregnant women and the disabled. But under the health care law, some states are expanding eligibility to cover low-income adults.

College students have many health plan choices 08/30/13 [Last modified: Sunday, September 1, 2013 6:28pm]
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