Short-Term Health Plans: Affordable Health Insurance for College Students

Updated on: May 28th, 2021

Reviewed by Jeff Kritzer

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Five Things College Students Should Know About Short-Term Health Plans

If you’re in college, you have probably done your share of research. That could mean searching for the best university for your major, reviewing the housing options, and spending hours online digging up data for research papers.

Before you start your next assignment, have you remembered to research your options for health insurance? There are a variety of insurance plans available, depending on the time of year, your location, your income. and your specific needs.

One option that is newer to the market is short-term health insurance. To help you decide if these plans are right for you, read through these five things college students should know about short-term health plans.

College students have several options for insurance coverage

You may be young and healthy, but you should still have health insurance. Accidents happen, from dog bites to fender-benders to crashing your bike. An allergic reaction, infection, or nasty flu can send you to the emergency department. 

According to healthcare.gov, college students receive health coverage through many sources, including:

Enrolling in a student health plan at your college or university

Many colleges and universities require students to select the school’s designated insurance plan.

If your school follows this rule, the cost of insurance is likely wrapped into your tuition or

general student fees.

Buying a plan on the Health Insurance Marketplace

You can choose to buy directly from the Marketplace during open enrollment. If your parents do not claim you as a dependent on their taxes, then your coverage cost is based on your annual income and you may qualify for subsidies to reduce your monthly premium payments. If, however, your parents claim you as a dependent, then your premiums are based on the total household income. 

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Getting insurance coverage on your parents’ plan

Are you under 26 years old? If you’ve lost your coverage, your parents can add you to their health insurance plan. You can be covered even if you don’t live at home, including if you live in another state. But be sure to read the coverage details carefully. Some hospitals, physicians, and other providers in your new state may not be in the plan’s network. That means you might pay more for the care you receive. 

Signing up for Medicaid 

Once again, if your parents do not claim you as a dependent, you may be able to sign up for health insurance through Medicaid. This program is based on your annual income, and this amount differs by state so you’ll need to research the requirements for the state where you live or go to school.

Enrolling in a short-term health plan  

If the options listed above don’t work for you, you have another choice to consider: Short-term health plans.

What is a short-term health insurance plan?

Short-term health plans can provide coverage up to 12 months, but they are typically offered for a three-month term with the option to renew. Just be aware that the insurer can choose not to renew, say if you become very ill, or can offer renewal but with much larger premium costs. 

Short-term policies were made primarily to fill temporary coverage gaps.1  

As a student, you might have a gap in coverage for many reasons: you quit a job that provided health insurance and are waiting for coverage to begin at your new job; you moved off your parent’s health insurance when you started school; or you missed the deadline to buy a plan during the open enrollment period at your job or on the Health Insurance Marketplace. 

A short-term policy may also be a good idea if you are planning to take time off for a semester or for the summer and your student health plan won’t cover you during the break. This type of plan might help to protect you until you are back on campus.

What makes short-term insurance plans a good choice for some college students?

An alternative for students without a school plan

Although many universities and colleges offer health insurance plans or require you to carry comprehensive coverage, others do not. In this case, you may want to look into short-term health plans.

Coverage for emergencies

In general, college students are the youngest and healthiest group of adults. If you are in this group, short-term insurance plans can provide some coverage to help protect you in case of a major medical emergency or long hospital stay. Policy language can be tricky to understand, so make sure you know how much the plan reimburses you if you end up with large medical bills.   

Lower cost

Students with limited or no income frequently seek budget-friendly insurance. This is especially true for students who do not qualify for tax subsidies that lower their monthly premium fees. Short-term insurance generally costs less than plans on the Health Insurance Marketplace. 

Looking for Health Insurance?

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Looking for Health Insurance?

Find Affordable Healthcare That’s Right for You

Immediate coverage 

Unlike Affordable Care Act plans sold on the Marketplace, short-term health plans are offered throughout the year. That means you do not have to wait for an open enrollment period to apply for coverage. 

A variety of plans 

Depending on where you live, you may find dozens of short-term plans available. Search online if this type of coverage is offered in your state. When doing your research, make sure to review the following:

  • Cost of monthly premiums
  • Deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums for each plan
  • What care is and is not covered
  • Your copay for doctor and hospital services
  • How many months the plan covers you 

Short-term plans are not right for everyone

Because short-term, limited-duration health insurance was created to meet specific needs, they are not the right choice for every student. Consider the following before opting for a short-term plan.

Pre-existing conditions are not covered

If you have a pre-existing condition, a short-term plan may not cover the costs for treatment. Allergies, asthma, diabetes and sleep apnea are just a few of many conditions considered pre-existing, and they are not covered by short-term plans.

“Essential health benefits” are usually not covered

Every plan on the Marketplace must include coverage for 10 essential health benefits. These benefits include emergency services, mental health care and prescription drugs, among others. If you need coverage for any of these essential health benefits, you will likely need to buy a different type of insurance plan. Short-term plans are not required to cover these essential benefits.

Many states do not offer this coverage

Currently, 10 states, including New York, New Jersey, Vermont and California, among others, do not allow insurers to offer short-term plans. Others limit the number of months you may be covered by these plans. 

As with any insurance purchase: Do your research

There are more options for health insurance than ever before. That makes finding the coverage that meets your health care needs — and your budget — more complicated. Whether you decide to purchase a short-term health plan or a different type of coverage, be sure to research plans carefully. It’s an assignment that is worth the extra effort.



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  1. Internal Revenue Service, Employee Benefits Security Administration and U.S. Health and Human Services Department. “Short-Term, Limited-Duration Insurance.” Federal Register 83, No. 38212 (August 3, 2018) (accessed February 2020).