Back to school: Don't forget the health insurance

Maryalene LaPonsie | November 9, 2010

Class schedule? Check.

Textbooks? Check.

Mini fridge? Check!

Student health insurance? ...

Don't have that one yet? Then you're in good company. According to insurance giant Aetna, 19- to 29-year-olds make up the largest segment -- nearly 1 in 3 -- of the estimated 45.7 million uninsured in the United States. Of the 13.7 million uninsured in this age bracket, it's estimated that 4.5 to 5.5 million are college students. Fortunately, for students and non-students alike, finding affordable health insurance just got easier.

Get student health insurance from Mom and Dad -- with a little help from Uncle Sam

Unless you've just returned from a Peace Corps assignment in the Sahara, you are probably well aware that health reform legislation was passed in the United States earlier this year. The comprehensive reform will be rolled out over the next four years, with the centerpiece being Health Insurance Exchanges and a health insurance mandate taking effect in 2014.

However, students don't have to wait that long to benefit from health reform. Beginning on September 23, 2010, the new law will require that all group health plans extend dependent coverage to young adults up to age 26. It doesn't matter if you live on your own; it doesn't matter if you have your own job; it doesn't matter if you got hitched during that wild weekend in Vegas. Mom and Dad's group health insurance plan has to offer you coverage unless you or your spouse have access to group insurance through your own employer.

The only catch is that insurers don't have to add you to a plan until it is time to renew the policy. For some, that might mean waiting until January 2011 or later to secure medical coverage. The good news is that many insurance companies, including some of the nation's largest insurers, have already started offering extended dependent coverage ahead of the government mandate.

Other ways to find student health insurance

So where do you go to find medical coverage? Whether you are looking for temporary health insurance or a long-term solution, here are a few ideas for today's young adults:

  • Employer group insurance: You don't always have to work full-time to qualify for affordable health insurance. Many businesses, such as Starbucks, offer insurance benefits to part-time employees as well.
  • School health plans: Many colleges and universities provide access to student health insurance through the campus health department. Some schools may require that you be enrolled for a certain number of credit hours, so check with your school for details of enrollment and coverage.
  • Individual medical health insurance: Young adults have one huge advantage when it comes to purchasing health insurance: they are, by and large, a very healthy group. The result? Lower premiums than most other segments of the population. You don't have to be an econ major to realize that purchasing medical coverage is a sound investment for your future.

If you are unable to get on a parent's plan right away, it's a good idea to find temporary health insurance in the meantime. You may also need to find your own health insurance if your parents don't have group coverage. It only takes one illness or accident to result in astronomical medical bills -- sometimes reaching the hundreds of thousands. Skipping medical insurance definitely falls into the penny-wise and pound-foolish category.

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