Getting Health Coverage in College

Don't let your child head off to college this fall without health care insurance.

The federal General Accountability Office released a report last year that estimated that one out of five college students aren't covered by health insurance. No doubt the numbers are even worse now with widespread layoffs and shrinking employee health benefits.

Here's what you need to do to make sure your child is covered:
Double check the policy. Just because your insurer paid for your child's broken arm or allergy shots last year doesn't mean you can count on the firm footing the bills during the coming school year. Eager to cut costs, employers have been slashing the insurance protection that parents used to take for granted.

If you receive insurance through a health maintenance organization or preferred provider and your child is attending school away from home, you'll need to ask additional questions. Find out if there are providers in the health plan where your child will be living. If there aren't, ask what extra charges you might face for out-of-the-network care.

Check eligiblity. If your insurance policy only covers your child if he is enrolled full-time, find out what the definition of "full-time" is. At many schools, a student is considered full time if she is taking at least 12 credit hours. I bumped into a woman a few months ago, who was terrified of losing her freshman daughter's coverage because the teenager, without informing her, had dropped a course that she was failing. This pushed the girl's course load below the 12 credit-hour mark.

Contact the school. Ask your student's school about its health benefits. Among four-year institutions, 82% of public universities and 71% of private colleges offer student health plans, according to the GAO report. The benefits are all over the board -- some are laughable while others are princely.

According to the GAO, some college plans might only pay $2,500 annually for a specific condition while others might offer $1 million coverage. This could be a case of getting what you pay for. The GAO discovered that student health care premiums ranged from $30 to $2,400.Check to see how a plan handles such things as mental health services, prescriptions and preventative care.

Shop for policies. If all else fails and you need to buy an individual policy for your child, comparison shop. eHealthInsurance is one place to evaluate a variety of these policies.