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My college offers health insurance. Can I purchase coverage through the exchange instead?

Q. I’m a college student and my school offers health insurance. But I would rather purchase my own coverage in the exchange where I would be eligible for a subsidy. Can I do that?

A. Yes. The Treasury Department clarified in 2013 that all college and graduate students can qualify for subsidized insurance on an exchange — as long as they don’t enroll in the university’s plan.

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for college students. In your situation — since you’re eligible for a subsidy in the exchange — it may be cost-effective to purchase an exchange plan instead of the student health plan from your university. Although depending on the size of your subsidy, you may find that the student health plan offered by your college still ends up being less expensive than the exchange plan, and might also have lower out-of-pocket costs.

For students who aren’t eligible for a subsidy (which is often the case if the student is still claimed as a dependent on their parents’ tax return, since the parents’ income is then counted for subsidy-eligibility purposes), the college’s health plan may very well be more affordable than a full-price individual market plan.

Whichever option you choose, the coverage will be fully-compliant with the ACA. Student health plans are required to comply with all of the ACA’s individual market reforms, as are all individual major medical plans — including both on and off-exchange plans (subsidies cannot be used with off-exchange plans, but the coverage is still compliant with the ACA as long as it’s a major medical plan).

Read more FAQs about health reformhealth insurance exchanges, and student health insurance (including this explanation of student health plan risk pools and the changes that HHS has proposed for 2019 regarding student health insurance; the ACA’s consumer protections will continue to apply to student health plans, but the rate review process may change).


Louise Norris is an individual health insurance broker who has been writing about health insurance and health reform since 2006. She has written dozens of opinions and educational pieces about the Affordable Care Act for healthinsurance.org. Her state health exchange updates are regularly cited by media who cover health reform and by other health insurance experts.