Community college health insurance plans are surprisingly tricky

by Chad Agrawal

Many students are lucky enough to benefit from the fact that their parents have jobs that allow them to provide health insurance coverage for the whole family. Often, these policies extend to the age of 25 so that kids who are unable to work full-time jobs (and thereby obtain benefits) due to the demands of schooling don't have to go uninsured during their time at community college (and beyond). Of course, not all students have this luxury, and while the fees you pay for health services will give you access to the health center on campus, the options for treatment are almost certainly limited.

Often you can receive testing, immunizations, and counseling, and some campuses may also offer STD screenings and treatment as well as reproductive care of some nature (access to protection and perhaps even family planning services). But in general they will refer most issues to area doctors or hospitals, especially in the case of serious illness or injury. And if you're uninsured this could end up costing you quite a bit. But is it worth getting health insurance through your community college or are you better off seeking coverage from an outside source? Here are a few things to consider.

First, you should know that some colleges require students to have health insurance in order to attend. According to a 2008 report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), nearly a third of schools won't let you in without it. So you might not have a choice about purchasing healthcare coverage. That said, you do have a lot of other choices, such as where you get insured, the type of coverage you select, and how much you pay. But most students aren't as concerned with where their policies come from as how much is going to come out of their pockets.

The thing is, there are tradeoffs with each plan. For example, campus plans for coverage vary widely from school to school. Some could cost less than a hundred dollars a year while others could go for upwards of $2,500. Then there are deductibles to consider (or the amount you'll pay out of pocket before your coverage kicks in) and these generally range from about $500-1,000 per year. And there are limitations on where you may seek service as well as maximum benefits (which tend to top out in the $30,000-$50,000 range). Plus, only about half of schools offer their own insurance plans, so you might not even have access to such coverage.

As for individual insurance plans, there are other pros and cons to weigh. In general, you can expect to pay higher premiums (your up-front cost) than you would through your university. And for the student that is fit and healthy this may not sound like a very good idea. However, the trade-off could be lower deductibles, little cost for in-office visits, access to a wider range of healthcare facilities and services (including specialists, pharmaceuticals, and out-of-town coverage for care), and extended coverage for major illness or injury. For example, a student at high risk for health-related issues like diabetes, cancer, and so on would almost certainly want to err on the side of caution and opt for individual insurance since treatments for such a diagnosis could quickly burn through the limited benefits offered by many college plans.

Of course, you don't have to master health administration jargon to know that the benefits and drawbacks depend largely on the plan. So it pays to do your homework here and delve into all of your options before making a final decision. The student on a budget may not have a lot of wiggle room when it comes to "extras" like insurance (which is probably why an estimated 20% go without). But if you're interested in obtaining coverage for colds, flus, and the unexpected broken leg or diagnosis of a chronic disease, then you should definitely look into insurance plans both on and off campus to choose the one that's right for you.

This post was written by Chad Agrawal

Chad Agrawal is the founder of CCTS, helping students transfer from community college to Ivy League, tier 1 or anywhere else by following this community college guide.

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