By Erin Schilling, University of Georgia

Tish Thompson navigated life as an uninsured college student.

With a part-time job, student loans and classes to worry about, her health insurance didn’t seem like a top priority at the time.

“I knew about student insurance, but I had no money,” Thompson said.

Thompson’s story is familiar in the United States. According to a health insurance coverage analysis by the U.S. Census in 2017, about 28.5 million people were uninsured that year.

During Thompson’s time as a student, her grandmother died which caused a “mental breakdown,” she said. Without the funds for health insurance, her options were limited for mental health resources.

However, she turned to the University of Georgia Health Center where she managed to find the help she needed. Through its services, Thompson connected with therapists and received medication she could afford.

“From my experience, the health center was a life saver for me,” Thompson said.

Like many higher education institutions, UGA has a health fee which funds its health center. UGA charges students around $200 per semester for health center services. After paying this fee, there are no additional out-of-pocket costs for primary care appointments, urgent care or the women’s clinic.

Other health services, including counseling and psychiatric services, are offered to students at a reduced rate. However, there are costs associated with procedures, lab services and prescribed medication.

According to the University System of Georgia Board of Regents policy, all full-time students have to pay the health fee each semester. If a student is taking less than six credit hours, they can opt to pay fee-for-service per visit. Though the mandatory health fee for full-time students reduces some costs, institutions still recommend students to get health insurance.

Before purchasing health insurance for themselves, Kristy Archuleta, an associate professor for financial planning at UGA, said students should check with their parents.

“If the student is under age 26, they may be covered by their parents’ insurance,” Archuleta said. “If parents are unsure, they should contact their insurance companies.”

If their parents aren’t insured, UGA offers a healthcare plan that students can purchase for either a semester or a full year ranging in costs from about $1,100 to $2,700 for each student covered.

“No one should go without health care coverage, regardless of their age or current health condition,” a United HealthCare Student Resources report read. “An accident, injury or illness can happen to anyone, including ‘young invincibles,’ who are studying and working hard at colleges across the U.S.”

According to a U.S. Government Accountability Office 2008 analysis, 82 percent of public, four-year universities offered student insurance plans, and the average of all the types of colleges was 57 percent.

Though paying for insurance may be a burden on college students who cannot consider themselves dependents on their parents’ plans, health care coverage is still a recommended investment. However, students who are uninsured can visit their university’s health center to seek medical assistance if needed and know that their school’s health fee covers some cost of the visit.

Note: Amy Scott contributed to the reporting of this story.

Erin Schilling and Amy Scott are journalism majors in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia.