Young adults tend to think they’re invincible, and the low rate of health coverage among U.S. college students supports that theory. In 2011, the General Accounting Office (GAO) reported that as many as 1.7 million college students in the U.S. didn’t have insurance. But the Affordable Care Act (ACA, commonly called Obamacare) passed in 2010 and being implemented in 2014 is changing that, and there are some important things you need to know.
If you’re a college student in the United States, here’s what the ACA means for you:
No exemption for college students
The most important thing to know is that the Affordable Care Act makes no exemption for college students. You’re legally required to have health insurance and, if you don’t, you’re subject to the penalty, although that may be waived if your income is low enough.
Fortunately, you have several options for obtaining health insurance. They include:
- One of the Act’s provisions is that children can stay on their parents’ plans until they’re 26, even if they’re married, in school, no longer living with their parents, not financially dependent on their parents, or have access to another health insurance plan. If you’re not currently on your parents’ plan, check to see if they’re willing to add you and how much it would cost. You can always pay the additional premium costs if your parents are unable to.
- Many colleges offer student health plans that are counted as coverage under the ACA. Check with your school to see whether their insurance plan qualifies, how much it costs, and what it covers.
- Even if your college does offer a qualifying plan, you can still apply for coverage through the health insurance marketplace. You may be able to find a plan that has lower premiums and better coverage. You may also qualify for government subsidies, depending on your income level.
- If your income is so low that you don’t have to file a tax return, you won’t have to pay the penalty for not having insurance. However, if you want to apply for premium subsidies, you’ll have to file a tax return even if it’s not required for tax purposes.
- If you’re under 30, you also have the option of choosing catastrophic coverage. Catastrophic plans have lower premiums but high deductibles, usually several thousand dollars. They’re intended to protect you in the case of a devastating injury or illness, not to provide coverage for a broken arm or the flu. And they’re not eligible for subsidies or tax credits. However, catastrophic plans purchased through the health insurance marketplace do include free preventive care and three doctor’s visits per year.
- The enrolment period for 2014 runs from November 15 through December 31.
Health insurance is just as important for college students as it is for anyone else. College students are more likely to have accidents, and a devastating illness can strike anyone, even someone who was previously healthy. Not only is having health insurance now required by U.S. federal law, it’s just plain smart.