Students: Get the Most Out of Health Care Reform

On September 23, big changes are coming to health care for college students, including better insurance benefits and coverage extensions. Read on to discover what the health care reform bill of 2010 means for you.

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Young Americans Struggle to Find Health Insurance

Last spring, Congress passed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act - college students who missed all the controversy may remember it from the student aid legislation that accompanied the bill. Well, now's a good time to pay attention: Tomorrow a major provision of the Act will go into effect that could have a positive impact on college students nationwide.

Until now, reaching your early 20s meant the end of health care coverage through mom and dad. Although specific ages varied from company to company, most health insurance providers booted young adults off their parents' plans at age 21 or 22. This has long been a problem for college students, who typically can't afford individual coverage and often don't work enough hours to qualify for insurance through their employers. Although most colleges and universities offer a student health plan, the cost is often so high that many students balk at taking on yet more debt. As a result, 20% of college students aged 18-23 were uninsured in 2006, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO).

Health Care Plan

Health Care Reform Keeps College Students Covered

As of today, all that is changing. The health care reform bill requires insurance companies to extend young people's coverage under parent policies through age 26. For many students, that means one less thing to worry about - all the way through grad school.

HealthInsuranceSort.com has published a map of health care reform for students. You can download the guide from their website, but here are the key points:

Check with your parents' provider.

Some insurance companies have already implemented the provision that extends coverage for college students. Others will apply it at the start of the next coverage period, which is most likely to be in January 2011. Now is the time to find out if and when you can be covered and to get yourself on that plan.

Look on campus.

The big news may be extended coverage through your parents, but that's not always the best option for students. If you live in a different state, your out-of-network costs may be so high that you need to find another option. One place to look is your university's health plan. The health care reform bill forces universities to restructure plans such that more of the premiums go to care and less to profits. That means more coverage for you.

Get individual coverage.

Health care experts have long been frustrated with the quality of university health plans - check the American College Health Association Standards for Student Health Insurance Benefits to see how your school stacks up - and the new reform act isn't a 'silver bullet' for many of the systemic problems. However, in the long run it will make getting individual insurance easier. For students between the ages of 18 and 24 who are currently healthy, getting individual coverage through companies like Blue Cross and Blue Shield may be the most affordable option. That route may now be closed off to you if you have ongoing health issues, but beginning in 2014 insurance providers will no longer be able to deny you coverage because of pre-existing conditions.

Look for government-funded programs.

For low-income students and others with special circumstances, many states offer government-funded health care and health insurance. Check with your state of residency to see if you qualify.

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