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Other health coverage options for students, including COBRA

Health insurance isn’t something that most college students think about, but once you graduate or become too old to be covered under your parents insurance, it becomes something important. Since the passage of President Obama’s Health Care Reform Act, children are allowed to stay on their parents’ insurance plans until they turn 26.  Still, at some point in your life you may no longer be covered, and be unable to find a job with benefits that would give you your own insurance. Then you will probably need to research other options for temporary health insurance. 

Health insurance when your employer isn’t footing some of the bill can be expensive but doable.  If you are waiting for a job with benefits, there are a few options to get health insurance coverage while you wait. 

One option is COBRA. According to their Web site, COBRA stands for Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act.  People who are too old to remain covered under their parents insurance can take advantage of this 1986 act, which guarantees that most workers and adult children can maintain their health coverage after leaving a job or getting kicked off their parents’ health insurance. College graduates who have yet to find a job with benefits can sign up for COBRA and remain covered for up to 36 months after they have aged past 26. In order to get COBRA coverage you must notify your parents’ insurer that you would like a COBRA extension within 60 days of turning 27.

Although COBRA is an option, it is actually not the best option for college students. College students can get more affordable health care through their school’s insurance plan or through their parent’s insurance plan.

“COBRA is expensive,” said Vickie Metz, student health insurance coordinator for Clemson University. “It can cost $500, $600, $700 dollars a month, so students are better off getting healthcare from their school.”

For college graduates looking for health insurance COBRA has benefits. Along with the convenience of simply continuing on your parents plan, COBRA will accept anyone with a pre-existing condition. This means if you have a chronic illness, you will be covered, whereas many private health insurers will not cover pre-existing conditions.

While a COBRA extension can be convenient, it does have drawbacks. You can only have COBRA for a limited amount of time, 36 months, and it can be expensive. Most college graduates who use COBRA for their health insurance are required to pay the entire premium for coverage up to 102 percent of the plan’s costs. In other words, you will be responsible for 100 percent of what your parents paid, plus what their employer paid along a 2 percent processing fee.

“I would recommend that graduates only get COBRA if they have a pre-existing medical condition,” said Vickie Metz, student health insurance coordinator at Clemson University.
“Unless you have a condition that exceeds the expensive monthly costs, COBRA won’t be worth it.”

Another option for health insurance, if you think you will find a job soon, is short-term coverage.  Short-term coverage will cover you for about 12 months. These plans are usually available through private insurance, and sometimes they are offered through your college’s alumni association. One advantage of these plans is they are flexible. They allow you to pay month by month if you aren’t sure when you want to stop coverage, and some plans even allow you to pick your coverage by day.  But this type of coverage usually doesn’t cover pre-existing conditions, and most short-term plans can’t be renewed.

“If you are generally healthy, then short-term insurance is a good idea,” said Metz. “It is relatively cheap and you can get coverage for as long as you might need it.”
While most private health insurance plans are out of reach financially for college students and unemployed recent college graduates, getting private health insurance without an employer to foot some of the bill is possible if you choose a plan with a high deductible. According to the Washington Post, high-deductible health insurance plans can cost as little as $50 to $100 per month. Typically, these plans don’t cover preventive care or prescription drugs, but if you need to go to the hospital these plans will allow you to do so without being stuck with an astronomical bill. Another advantage of this type of health insurance coverage is that it does not have a time limit like COBRA and short-term coverage.

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