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Most colleges and universities require their students to carry health insurance coverage — and even if they don’t, having health coverage is essential. Most schools offer health plans for their students, but traditionally, those plans included low lifetime and annual benefit maximums, and benefits that weren’t particularly comprehensive. That changed with the ACA, however.
The ACA prohibited lifetime maximums on essential benefits in student plans as of July 2012, and prohibited annual maximums on essential health benefits as of 2014. These requirements make student health plans more of a true safety net than they were in the past.
Student health insurance marketed by the university is not the only option, though. Students may opt instead to remain on their parents’ plan through age 26, or seek coverage through an employer’s plan if they have a job that offers health coverage.
And if they’re in a state that has expanded Medicaid and have an income below 138% of the poverty level, they can enroll in Medicaid (that limit is about $20,120 for a single individual in the continental U.S. in 2023; note that states generally wait until March or April to implement the current year’s poverty level guidelines for Medicaid eligibility).
They can also purchase their own individual health insurance plan through the exchange or off-exchange, with subsidies in the exchange based on income (note that if the student is a tax dependent on someone else’s return, the income of the entire tax household is taken into consideration, relative to the total number of people in the household).
There are several factors to keep in mind when deciding what coverage to use while in college. For example, your parents’ health plan might not offer maternity coverage for dependents, or it might not have a provider network in the area you’ll be going to school. And some schools offer student health plans that are self-insured and don’t conform to the ACA’s requirements, while other schools that are religiously affiliated might not cover contraception under their student health plan.
(The Biden administration has proposed a rule change in 2023 that would ensure access to zero-cost contraception even if a woman is enrolled in a plan that has a religious exemption from the contraception coverage mandate.)
Read more about student health insurance.