Health Insurance in College: What Options Are Out There?

There are so many things to think about before going to college. Is health insurance on your list? Here's why it should be, plus four popular coverage options for college students.

College is a time of life that’s filled with new and exciting experiences. In the midst of choosing your major, signing up for classes, and forming new friendships, your potential health care needs are probably the last thing on your mind. However, having the right health insurance to cover you while you’re in college is an important preparation step you shouldn’t take lightly.

Even though you’re no longer required to have health insurance to avoid potential tax penalties, finding the right health insurance plan should still be a priority. It can give you the security of knowing that if you become sick or injured, you’ll be able to get (and afford) the medical care you need. When it comes to health insurance for college students, there’s good news: you actually have a lot of options. Here’s an overview of four popular choices you’ll want to consider.

Stay on your parents’ plan

Since 2010, children have been allowed to remain on their parents’ health insurance plan until they turn 26 years old. This change came about due to the Affordable Health Care Act (also known as Obamacare). If you’ve been on your parent’s health insurance plan previously, it may be perfectly fine for you to stay on the same plan while you’re in college. However, this option won’t be right for everyone. There are two reasons you might need to consider getting insurance coverage of your own instead:

  1. Not all insurance plans offer dependent coverage. If your parents’ health care plan doesn’t give them the option to include dependents, they won’t be able to add you.
  2. Students moving out of state for college may need to find different health insurance coverage. If you’re going to an out-of-state university, the doctors and other health care providers near your school might be outside your insurance plan’s network. While you technically might be allowed to remain on your parents’ policy, those coverage options probably won’t offer you the best protection in the event of illness or injury.

Related: In State vs. Out of State: What’s Best for You?

Sign up for the student health plan through your school

Many colleges and universities have health care plans available for students. Though not available at every college, school-sponsored health plans may be a good choice for some students when they are offered. One of the most attractive features of student health insurance plans is the fact that the premiums are often bundled with your tuition and other fees. The result? You may be able to pay for your student health care premiums using student loans and other financial aid funds. For a cash-strapped college student, that’s a big plus.

Before you rush to sign up for a school-sponsored plan, however, keep in mind that they can vary widely from school to school. Some plans are more expensive than others, and the benefits they offer aren’t the same. If you’re considering a student health plan, be sure to compare the premiums, out-of-pocket costs, and benefits to the other health insurance options available to you.

Enroll through the Health Insurance Marketplace

Buying an insurance policy through a federal or state exchange might be a good financial fit for some students. Depending upon your income, you may be eligible to receive lower monthly premiums, tax credits, or other types of savings. You can visit the Health Insurance Marketplace and enter your information to see if you qualify for any financial relief options. Your individual costs for coverage will vary based on the type of plan you choose and whether you qualify for lower premiums or tax credits. The Marketplace offers two different coverage options to consider:

  • Health insurance plan: Marketplace health insurance plans cover essential health benefits like doctor’s visits, in-patient/out-patient hospital care, prescription drugs, pregnancy and childbirth, and mental health. Depending on the plan you choose, it may include coverage for additional services as well.

  • Catastrophic health insurance plan: If you’re under the age of 30, you’ll have a second choice of a catastrophic health plan. Catastrophic plans typically cost less—by far—when compared with other health insurance premiums. However, they feature high deductibles. Although the plan will usually only protect you in worst-case medical scenarios, it does include coverage for some preventative care services at no additional cost. A catastrophic plan also covers at least three primary care visits each year before your deductible has to be met.

Usually you must enroll in a Marketplace health insurance plan during a certain window of time each year known as open enrollment. Open enrollment occurs near the end of the calendar year. If you miss the deadline, most people have to wait until the next open enrollment period to sign up for a plan through the Marketplace. However, if you qualify for a Special Enrollment Period, you might be able to get coverage through a Marketplace health insurance plan without the wait. Students moving out of state for school will often qualify for a Special Enrollment Period.

Related: Adulting 101: An Introduction to Health Care and Insurance 

Apply for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program

Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) are free or low-cost health care coverage options. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, some states have expanded their Medicaid programs during the past decade. In states with expanded coverage, you may be able to qualify for coverage if your income is below a certain level (typically up to 133% of the federal poverty level, though this can vary by state). In other states, you won’t be able to qualify for a Medicaid plan unless you’re pregnant, elderly, disabled, or a member of a qualifying low-income family.

You can find out if you qualify for Medicaid or CHIP through the Health Insurance Marketplace. Simply fill out an application with your income and other information. If you appear to be eligible, the Marketplace will send your information to your state Medicaid or CHIP agency, and the agency should follow up with you directly to help you enroll for coverage. You don’t have to wait for open enrollment to sign up for Medicaid or CHIP. If you qualify for the coverage, you can enroll at any time.

The bottom line

The right health insurance plan can help protect you from a financial disaster if illness or injury arises while you’re in college. Good health insurance can also give you access to affordable preventative care, helping you to stay healthier and happier during this exciting time of your life.

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About Michelle Lambright Black

Michelle Lambright Black

Michelle Lambright Black, founder of and, is a leading credit expert with over 15 years of experience in the credit industry. She’s an expert on credit reporting, credit scoring, identity theft, budgeting, and debt eradication. Michelle is also an experienced personal finance and travel writer. You can connect with her on Twitter @MichelleLBlack and Instagram @CreditWriter.


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