Obamacare 101: What college students need to know

College students, like others, can purchase health insurance through the Obamacare exchanges that went live Oct. 1. But many students already have insurance through their parents or schools.

John Gress/ Reuters/ File
Get Covered America is an organization seeking to raise awareness about new health-care options under the Affordable Care Act. Buttons with the organization's name were available during a training session in Chicago, Sept. 7, 2013.

Many college students already have health insurance through their parents or schools. Now they have another option for health insurance: the new "exchanges," part of the Affordable Care Act, that went live on Oct. 1. 

Here’s how the new option could affect college students in the United States. 

What was the health-insurance landscape for college students before the exchanges went live?

Most colleges have required students to either purchase health insurance or continue enrollment in their parents’ plan. Under the 2010 Affordable Care Act (ACA), students have been able to stay on their parents’ health-insurance plan until age 26 – even if they are married or have coverage through an employer.

Beginning in 2014, college students, like others, will have to abide by the "individual mandate" in the ACA, which requires most people to obtain insurance or pay a tax penalty. That's where the exchanges could come in for students who aren't on their parents' plan and don't want to purchase insurance through their school. 

What if I can’t afford insurance?

Students who can’t afford insurance, and whose income is below a certain level, could qualify for Medicaid. Check with your state to see if you're eligible. 

If you’re under 30, you have the option of buying a “catastrophic” health plan, which tends to have a low premium but requires you to pay all your medical costs up to a certain amount, usually several thousand dollars. The insurance company would pay for essential health benefits over that amount.

I’m a foreign student in the United States. Can I purchase a policy through an exchange?

Individuals with non-immigrant status, which includes worker visas and student visas, qualify for insurance coverage through the exchanges, according to HealthCare.gov.

Where can I look for insurance plans?  

For more information, check out HealthCare.gov.

I don't have insurance and don't want to buy a policy. What will happen? 

You might have to pay a penalty for not purchasing an insurance policy. To find out more, check out the Monitor's story on potentially opting out

Other articles in the Monitor's Obamacare 101 series:

What happens starting Oct. 1?

What to know if you already have health insurance

How the federal subsidy works

What to know if you opt out of buying health insurance

What owners of small businesses need to know

• When will the enrollment glitches be fixed?

Seven ways you can sign up, despite Web woes

Enroll by March 31 to avoid penalty, White House clarifies


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