By Katherine Lewis

Unlike many life lessons that are learned when first entering college, health insurance is one that many students struggle to wrap their heads around.

Many new college students have never had to handle their own insurance and likely won’t until they are 26, when they’re required to roll off of their parents’ insurance. However, some students are on their own when it comes to finding health care and coverage.

It is important for a student living on their own for the first time to understand their insurance plan, how they are covered and which one of their many options is best for their situation.

There are an overwhelming number of options for student health care, which can be confusing for students to navigate. The most common options across the nation include student health plans, remaining on parents’ plan, Medicaid, Marketplace health plans or a workplace plan. A student must consider their situation when deciding which option is best for them.

Students oftentimes stay on their parents’ plan until they’re required to roll off at age 26. This is the most common option as it is the most seamless and easiest for many.

If a student chooses to enroll in insurance through their college, a student is charged for coverage along with their other institutional expenses. Most colleges also allow students to apply for loans for their coverage.

Through the Affordable Care Act, low-income students are provided with cheaper coverage made available by Medicaid. There are requirements that a person must meet to qualify for this option.

“If you’re young and healthy with no health issues, get a higher deductible that gives you that lower premium,” said Kristen Wilson, a physical therapist from Lawrenceville, Georgia.

Wilson said that this plan is good for students who do not deal with health issues commonly, but if a student were faced with a health condition that places them in the doctor’s office regularly, then a lower deductible and higher premium is a financially smarter decision.

Leigh Kenner, a compensation and benefits manager for National Gypsum, manages all health benefits for the company.

Keener said her best advice to a student choosing an insurance plan for the first time is to research all options and all costs of the medical plans. She also said that it is important to consider personal medical needs when considering different coverages.

“You want to make sure that you are getting the best value, for what you are paying for by way of the monthly premium,” Keener said.

Many out-of-state college students have a deeper understanding of their insurance due to how policies differ from state to state, and also confronting expenses that are not covered when a student is away from their policy’s network of healthcare providers.

Nora Walsh, a student at Clemson University in Clemson, South Carolina, is from New Jersey. When she was diagnosed with an ongoing illness in the spring, her parents’ insurance did not cover reoccurring medical care in South Carolina. She was left with the decision to pay out-of-pocket for care in the state or to fly home to New Jersey to get insured medical care within her policy’s network.

The cheaper option was for Walsh to fly home for six weekends straight until she fully recovered.

“I was put in a situation where I was forced to learn [about health insurance],” Walsh said. She said she knows more than most of her peers on health insurance because of her unusual circumstances.

Most students are not put in a situation throughout their college life that requires them to understand their insurance plan. However, it is important that students are able to comprehend their health plan for the sake of their potential well-being.

Visit healthcare.gov or check with your university’s health center to find more information about your health insurance options.

Katherine Lewis is studying journalism at the University of Georgia. She is a 2020 Cox-SABEW Fellow, a training program in partnership with UGA’s Cox Institute for Journalism Innovation, Management & Leadership.