As a college student, you’re part of a group that just a few years ago would have been among the millions of Americans living without insurance. Yes, many college campuses offer some health services and even minimal insurance, but at the age of 18, most family insurance policies would have dropped you.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA), more commonly known as Obamacare, aimed to better serve groups that couldn’t afford traditional health insurance on their own, including low-income college students. To that end, insurance providers must now offer coverage for children on family plans up to the age of 26. By then, many students will have graduated and entered the job market, allowing them to afford their own insurance policies.
What if you’re a student planning to study abroad, though? Will you be able to maintain your health insurance coverage when you’re out of the country? Will your coverage apply in other countries? Or should you consider supplemental policies?
Coverage for All Americans
If you are a U.S. citizen, you are not only eligible to keep your health insurance under Obamacare when you elect to study abroad, but you are actually required to maintain minimum mandatory coverage while you are traveling outside the U.S. If you’re covered under your parents’ policy or you continue working and you keep your employer-sponsored plan during your time abroad, you won’t be penalized for failure to maintain minimum standards of coverage.
If you are not covered by your parents or a job, you still have a couple of options. You can definitely apply for coverage through the ACA healthcare marketplace where there are actually student plans available.
You may also qualify for an exemption. Low-income students may be eligible for cost assistance, but if you earn so little income that you don’t have to file a tax return, you could apply for and receive an exemption. This will alleviate the potential penalties associated with failing to maintain mandatory health coverage, but the flip side is that you will be uninsured, which is a precarious position to be in.
Coverage in Foreign Countries
It’s important to understand what is offered under your health insurance coverage. Some policies provide coverage in other countries and some do not. Whether you’re still on your parents’ insurance, you have coverage through a job, or you’ve obtained a student health plan, speak to your provider to find out if your coverage is valid when you’re traveling outside the country.
If you are eligible for Medicaid or CHIP, you should know that coverage under these cost assistance policies will qualify as mandatory minimum coverage, ensuring that you don’t have to pay a fee for failure to maintain minimum coverage. However, they will not extend beyond U.S. borders, leaving you virtually uninsured while you’re out of the country.
If you’re only going to be overseas for a few weeks or months, you might not want to significantly change your health insurance policy. In this case you should ask your insurance provider about temporary, supplemental insurance or approach a third-party insurance provider about obtaining travelers insurance.
On its own, this type of supplemental policy will not qualify as mandatory minimum coverage, but it can help to ensure that if you suffer illness or injury during your time studying abroad, you’ll have access to the medical care you need without having to pay for services entirely out-of-pocket.