By Chloe Savan
Health insurance can give even the most advanced students a headache when trying to determine their best option.
“I am a Ph.D. student and I am in consumer economics, but the topic of healthcare isn’t necessarily something that I’m well versed in,” said Jordan Bell, a graduate student at the University of Georgia.
According to the website of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, young adults typically can stay on their parents’ health insurance plans until they turn 26. And most young adults choose to stay on their parents’ plan out of convenience — but if a parents’ plan isn’t an option, there are other alternatives to consider.
Patryk Babiarz, a professor at UGA’s College of Family and Consumer Sciences, named three alternatives before seeking a health policy directly with an insurance company: Medicare, employer-subsidized health insurance and university plans. Anyone can check eligibility for government aid on medicare.gov. For those students with a full-time job, their employer may offer health insurance benefits, which is how most adults get their health insurance.
Babiarz said universities often require their students to have health insurance and will likely offer health insurance coverage for purchase.
“If parental insurance is not an option, I think your best bet is to actually look at whether the university offers insurance for students,” he said.
Bell said she uses UGA’s health insurance plan and prefers it over her parents’ plan.
“I am on the university’s healthcare now because…it just ended up being a better value than what I had on my parents’ plan anyway, so I switched over to that when I started graduate school,” she said.
Once a student has decided on a provider, the next choice can be a complicated array of plans and tiers, said Babiarz who used the example of a provider with five tiers of health insurance plans: catastrophic, bronze, silver, gold and platinum. Each tier offers more coverage and costs more, he explained.
“People who would opt for those gold or platinum are people who basically expect that they would use that level of insurance because of their health status, and I would expect young people — students for example or young adults, especially those who are very healthy — to probably opt for those cheaper ones,” said Babiarz.
For people without pre-existing conditions, Babiarz said it can be acceptable to get a bare-bones plan in the catastrophic or bronze tier, but he also advised to consider one’s medical history and seek out plans that cover any medications or treatments that might be needed.
Babiarz particularly stressed the importance of seeking an insurance plan with a wide network.
“You should select an insurance plan that covers a lot of healthcare providers in the area where you live, or where your job is, or where your school is. So that you have a lot of doctors that you can potentially choose from if you need to see a specialist, or even a family doctor,” he said.
Babiarz said the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, requires all insurance plans to cover preventative care like vaccinations and cancer screenings, but any additional coverage is treated as a typical market good with trade-offs and increasing costs.
Babiarz said that health insurance providers have a yearly open enrollment period during which customers can choose a plan. Outside of open enrollment periods, it can be difficult to get health insurance, but there are exceptions made for new students enrolling in a school’s plan or a new employee hired outside of the open enrollment period.
Based on her experience, Bell stressed the importance of doing the homework necessary to understand the available options.
“I think it’s just really taking the time to go and read the fine print for yourself and understanding all the terminology that’s included,” she said.
Chloe Savan is a journalism student at the University of Georgia.