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Student health insurance: A good idea?

Your college-aged kid can stay on your plan -- but it may not provide the right coverage. Now's the time to check.

By Donna_Freedman Aug 30, 2012 1:35PM
If your son or daughter starts college locally this fall, you don't need to worry about health insurance. Federal law permits your kid to be on the family's plan until age 26.

But if your student is leaving home for school, now's the time to ask about what your insurance company provides. Ask how much you'd be responsible for if your son or daughter were hospitalized while at school.

"That's your biggest vulnerability," says Amy Danise of

Ordinary illnesses, such as the viruses that thrive in college dorms, can wind up costing a bundle as well. A student health plan might be the answer -- but not necessarily.

Obviously not every family has insurance. According to “Survival guide for the uninsured,” more than 60 million U.S. residents had no coverage for at least part of 2010 (the most recent year for which statistics are available). Of the 19-to-25 age group, 41.7% had no insurance during that time.

But you may be able to get coverage for your student either through a college, individual or short-term plan. Costs and coverage vary, so you’ll need to weigh your options carefully.

Better coverage, higher prices

The Affordable Care Act has meant changes for student health insurance plans, according to U.S. News & World Report. Among them: increased prescription benefits, free preventative care and higher maximum-coverage caps.

But that means higher premiums. For example, the health care plan at Towson University in Maryland runs $1,590 per year. Bethany College in Kansas dropped its coverage entirely rather than raise premiums to $2,000 per year, U.S. News reports; previously the plan cost $455 annually but provided a maximum of $10,000 in benefits.

An individual health insurance plan may be cheaper than a college one, since students are generally "young and healthy and can get a good rate," Danise says.

Another option is short-term health insurance, coverage designed for "transitional" situations. It typically lasts six months; usually it can be renewed for no longer than 36 months, according to Danise. (Post continues after video.)

Sick happens
Look for quotes on sites like and Coverage could cost as little as $150 a month. 

That sounds like a lot to someone who's already borrowing or whose family is struggling to pay in cash. But, as noted, a college health plan may cost more.

No one expects to be injured or get sick, but things happen. Fifteen years ago, my daughter became critically ill at college and was hospitalized for several months, including nearly two months on life support.

Fortunately, our health insurance plan included catastrophic coverage. If she'd had only a student plan, we'd probably still be paying off those bills.

Paying out of pocket for illness or injury could derail your college plans entirely. Opting out of insurance -- if your school will even let you -- is not a good idea. Don't risk it.

More on MSN Money:

Apr 8, 2013 6:47PM
Student health insurance: A good idea?- MSN Money : Try this site where you can comapre quotes from different companies:
Sep 5, 2012 11:44AM
I'm covered by my mom's health insurance, and I didn't even think about the insurance from my college until last December when I had to have surgery and stay in the hospital for a few days. My mom's insurance covered most of the bill, but there was still a balance of a few thousand dollars. The insurance from school paid it off. If I had realized beforehand that that plan was opt-out, I probably would have canceled it and been screwed. Absentmindedness saves the day again...
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Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.


Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.