Health Care Reform For The College Student: How The Affordable Care Act Will Affect You

You might already know that students have many health care options while in school. But you might be surprised to find out that the current and upcoming provisions of the Affordable Care Act are designed to make your life easier, at least from a health care standpoint.

For most students, college is a time of self-discovery, growth, and an overall desire to have fun—no surprises there. If you’re currently on break from school and you can’t wait to return, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

Unfortunately, health care is not a very exciting aspect of college life. It generally conjures up images of emergency room visits, staying in bed on a Saturday night to recover from mild illness, and all of the things related to adult life that most people would rather not think about, like bills and finding the money to pay for generally unforeseen medical expenses.

If you are currently a student at a college or university, you know that for the most part, students have many health care options while in school. And even if you feel that your options are limited, you might be surprised to find out that the current and upcoming provisions of the Affordable Care Act are designed to help you and to make your life easier, at least from a health care standpoint.

I’ll now explore these options, in order to give you a better sense of where you stand and how you might benefit.

Student health plans

When the final provisions of the Affordable Care Act were introduced, there was some confusion as to how it would affect student health plans, or SHPs. According to the ACA, individuals without insurance are mandated to buy or apply for a government-sponsored policy such as Medicaid at online marketplaces that are specific to each state. Individuals who choose to go without health care are subject to an annual fee that will rise steadily in the coming years.

Some of the key provisions of the ACA, which include guaranteed issue and renewal for all plans, are antithetical to the nature of SHPs, since they are offered to students only, for the period of time that they are enrolled in school.

Luckily, SHPs are not subject to these rules in particular, so if you are on an SHP, you can expect to keep it once the online marketplaces are open in October and the full provisions of the ACA go into effect in January.

The Affordable Care Act will also make SHPs better, by requiring them to comply with its regulations that do not allow providers to deny coverage based on pre-existing health conditions. The list of mandated health services that all insurers must provide to patients under the ACA, regardless of the level of their coverage, will also be required of SHPs.

These services include, among others, ambulatory services, therapeutic and related services, prescription drug, vision, and rehabilitation services, as well as services related to chronic illness.

That’s good news for students, especially since most SHPs too often deny coverage of such services, even when proper authorization and documentation is provided.

Leaning on mom and dad

In 2010, the Affordable Care Act made history by allowing all young adults to remain on their parents’ insurance policies until the age of 26, regardless of marital status, dependency, or pre-existing medical conditions.

This provision has already helped millions of Americans receive care, where they would have otherwise been out of luck.

If you are in this group, chances are you won’t have to worry about losing your insurance anytime soon, provided you are not nearing the age of 26. If you just turned or are about to turn 26, don’t panic. The ACA still provides you with a number of resources for finding health care at a reasonable price.

Catastrophic insurance: protection from an emergency

If the above two options do not apply to you, and you’re still wondering what might, the government offers something called catastrophic insurance. Catastrophic insurance is set up so that you pay a low monthly rate, and you are protected from paying a high deductible for an unforeseen emergency, such as a major surgery like an appendectomy.

This type of insurance brings with it many risk factors that you should keep in mind. Since the policy is low cost and offers coverage in the event of an expensive medical procedure, it is hard to get coverage for more common procedures such as a standard physical, which can be very expensive if your insurance company refuses to pay for it.

The ACA will require catastrophic insurance plans to comply with its regulations for required services, which may make the plans a safer, more reliable choice in the near future.

Medicaid: believe it or not, this may be for you

Medicaid is a well-known government-sponsored health insurance plan that provides coverage for people who cannot afford insurance on their own and do not make enough money to cover the expenses of even the most affordable plans.

In general, states determine eligibility based on income. If you make up to 100% above the federal poverty line on an annual basis, you are eligible to apply for Medicaid. Other eligibility factors have historically limited young adults from applying, since Medicaid recipients are currently required to have dependents, which many young adults do not.

But the ACA includes provisions to expand Medicaid in states that want it. Although this provision is not mandatory, many states have already begun the expansion process, including New York and New Jersey, with 26 states in all either on board with the expansion or leaning towards approving it.

If you live in a state that is in agreement with these changes, it means that for the first time, single, childless adults are eligible for Medicaid, and that the income requirement will be raised to 138% above the federal poverty line.

These changes could take place as soon as October 2013. It’s worth finding out if you meet the qualifications and doing some research to find out where your state stands on the issue.


If you’re feeling left out of this discussion, it means that you can’t get health care through any of the means that  mentioned thus far. Luckily, there is a place in the ACA for you too. If you’re below the age of 65, ineligible for Medicaid or parent-based insurance, and you don’t want to go without care, the government provides you with tax credit subsidy opportunities when shopping for health insurance plans under the ACA.

This means, essentially, that you can save money on whichever individual plan you choose to buy, so long as you meet the annual income and age requirements. This way, insurance doesn’t have to be something that ruins your day and drains your bank account. Come October, you may find that it is relatively easy for you to find good care at the right price.

What care means now

College students are often called the future of this country. And with the way the global and political economy is moving, it seems as though American students will have a lot to think about and work toward in the coming years. It’s nice to know that the future of health insurance is looking brighter and that young adults will have the security and protection of knowing that care will finally become a feasible and reliable reality.

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ACA Affordable Care Act dependents health health care health insurance insurance student life

About Michael Cahill

Michael Cahill is the Editor of the Vista Health Solutions blog. He writes about the health care system, health insurance industry, and the Affordable Care Act. Follow him on Twitter @VistaHealth.


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