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Health insurance for college students and graduates

How to buy affordable, comprehensive health insurance while you're at at college – and how to keep coverage after you graduate

Moving on to higher education after high school – and heading to a career after college graduation – are both life-changing events that also herald new decisions that will impact your health and well-being. Key among them is the decision of how to secure affordable health insurance that fits your needs and prevents gaps in coverage.

On this page, you’ll find information and links to articles that explain the types of coverage available, and explain how you can choose insurance options that best fit your budget and healthcare needs in this new phase of your life.

Coverage options for college students

There are plenty of health coverage options, each with plan costs and benefits that you can select based on your unique situation and needs.

Sign up for a student health plan through your school

Many universities offer student health insurance plans. In most cases, these plans are regulated by the ACA and cover the essential health benefits with no annual or lifetime benefit maximums. ACA-compliant student plans also cover pre-existing conditions, and cover certain preventive care with no cost-sharing.

Learn about student health plans.

Remain on a parent's health plan until age 26

The Affordable Care Act allows young adults to stay on their parents’ health insurance plan until they turn 26 – regardless of whether they’re enrolled in school, regardless of whether they’re listed as a parent’s tax dependent or whether they have an offer of coverage from an employer – and even regardless of whether they’re married.

Learn about the provision that allows you to stay on your parent’s health plan.

Enroll in a plan through the ACA marketplace

You can shop for health insurance plans through your state’s health insurance exchange (HealthCare.gov or a state-run platform, depending on where you live) and you may be eligible for premium subsidies.

The plans you can buy on the exchange are all ACA-compliant, which means you have a guaranteed level of coverage. You can shop during open enrollment or outside of open enrollment if you move or have another qualifying life event that makes you eligible for a special enrollment period.

Read more about how the American Rescue Plan improved affordability for young adults.

Enroll in Medicaid (if you're eligible)

Medicaid may be available for some students with qualifying incomes. Under the ACA, 38 states and the District of Columbia have expanded Medicaid eligibility to adults with incomes up to 138% (higher in D.C.) of the federal poverty level.

You can check your eligibility by using this federal poverty level (FPL) calculator.

Would ACA subsidies lower your health insurance premiums?

Use our 2023 subsidy calculator to see if you’re eligible for ACA premium subsidies – and your potential savings if you qualify.

Obamacare subsidy calculator *

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Add ages of other family members to be insured.

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Include yourself, your spouse, and children claimed as dependents on your taxes.

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Modified Adjusted Gross Income (MAGI)

For most taxpayers, your MAGI is close to AGI (Line 11 of your Form 1040 in 2021 and 2022).

Estimated annual subsidy

Provide information above to get an estimate.

* This tool provides ACA premium subsidy estimates based on your household income. healthinsurance.org does not collect or store any personal information from individuals using our subsidy calculator.

Deciding which coverage is best for you

Ask yourself these questions to determine what type of coverage you’ll need and the best way to get health insurance.

Should you stay on your parents' health insurance plan?

You’ve got an option to remain on your parents’ health plan until you turn 26, but it’s important to note that the plan’s network might not include hospitals and doctors in the area where you’re going to school, and might not provide maternity coverage for dependents.

It’s also important to understand that the health plan will likely send the explanation of benefits (EOB) to your parents if you receive medical care as a dependent on their plan. If this is a concern for you, a policy obtained in your own name might make you more comfortable.

Read: Should I buy the health plan my college offers? or buy through an ACA exchange?

Will your insurance cover your healthcare providers?

If you move – and don’t live in the same area as your parents – it might make more sense to shop for your own policy rather than staying on their plan, since the provider network for your parents’ plan may be limited in your area.

Will buying your own coverage make your parents' health plan more affordable?

Depending on how your parents’ health plan is structured, taking you off the plan may or may not affect the amount that they pay in premiums. This may depend on whether they buy their own plan or have employer-sponsored coverage (and if so, how the employer’s contributions to the premium are structured) and on whether they have other children who will remain on the plan.

Is the health insurance offered by my school good coverage?

Nearly all student health plans offered by colleges and universities are fully compliant with the ACA, with just a few exceptions. ACA-compliant plans cover pre-existing conditions, provide preventive care with no cost-sharing, include coverage for the essential health benefits, and don’t have annual or lifetime benefit caps.

(If a student health plan is self-insured, it doesn’t have to be compliant with the ACA. Some schools with self-insured student health plans have opted not to bring their plans into compliance with the ACA.)

If my college offers coverage, can I buy ACA-compliant health insurance?

College and graduate students can qualify for subsidized insurance on an exchange even if they’re eligible for a student health plan offered by their college or university – as long as they don’t enroll in the university’s plan. (This differs from the rules that apply to employer-sponsored health coverage offered to employees, which generally makes people ineligible for subsidies in the exchange.)

Coverage after your college graduation

If you were insured through your college or university, you will likely no longer be eligible for its coverage after you graduate. Be sure to plan ahead and make sure you don’t have a gap in coverage:

Stay on your parents' insurance

The ACA requires almost all health plans (with the exception of retiree-only plans) that offer dependent coverage to allow young adults to remain on a parent’s plan until they turn 26.

Points to consider when deciding whether to remain on a parent’s plan.

Buy an individual plan through the ACA marketplace

For grads who want a more robust, ACA-compliant plan that covers the essential health benefits and pre-existing conditions, a plan purchased through the state health insurance exchange is likely to be an ideal solution.

ACA-compliant plans for individuals are available in every state and premium subsidies and cost-sharing reductions are available through the marketplace to make coverage and care more affordable.

Check your eligibility for ACA premium subsidies.

Purchase a short-term health plan

College grads who need temporary coverage until another policy kicks in may consider short-term health insurance. Even grads who have a job lined up may face a waiting period before employer-sponsored health insurance coverage is available.

Note that each state has its own rules and regulations regarding short-term health insurance.

Check availability of short-term plans in your state.

Enroll in Medicaid

In 38 states, Medicaid has been expanded to cover all adults with income up to 138% of the federal poverty level.

Use our federal poverty level calculator to check your eligibility for Medicaid. 

For a new graduate living in a state where Medicaid has been expanded, Medicaid could be a perfect solution while job hunting. Medicaid enrollment is available year-round, and Medicaid covers pre-existing conditions. In most cases, there are no premiums.

See whether your state has implemented Medicaid expansion.

Get coverage through a new employer

Getting health insurance through an employer-sponsored plan is a coverage option many college grads envision, and it’s an excellent option if available. Employer-sponsored health insurance generally offers substantial benefits, and employers typically pay a large portion of the premiums.

But while obtaining employer-sponsored health insurance may be the goal, it might not necessarily materialize soon after graduation, or even in the near future. Thanks to the ACA, it’s easier than ever for young adults to have health insurance coverage, even if the benefits they assumed they’d receive from employers take longer than expected to materialize.

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