What You Need to Know:
Your parent’s plan may not provide adequate coverage in your new location.
Check your school’s requirements for health insurance and compare the school-sponsored health plan, if one is offered, with your current coverage.
Do your homework and compare all your options to find the best health insurance coverage for you.
When planning for college, choosing a roommate and a major may seem like your biggest decisions. Equally important is deciding what type of health insurance you will need while you are away at school. If you are attending an Alabama college or university, you have several options for health care coverage.
Why Do Alabama Students Need Health Insurance?
Students who are young and healthy often think health insurance is an unnecessary cost until an unexpected illness or injury sends them into debt. In fact, medical debt is a key factor in two-thirds of all bankruptcies1. Having health insurance coverage protects your financial health, as well as your physical health
What’s more, depending on the college you attend, you may not have a choice regarding health insurance. Many schools require some or all students to have a health policy that covers their medical care while in school. If you’re shopping for health coverage while you’re a college student in Alabama, here are some things to consider.
Why Insurance Matters
An unexpected illness or injury can be costly if you don’t have health insurance.
Will You Attend School In-State Or Out-Of-State?
If your current health coverage is network-based, you may not be adequately covered in your new location. This applies whether you are attending an in-state or out-of-state school.
Can Someone Claim You as a Dependent?
If your parents claim you as a dependent on their taxes, you are considered a member of their household. Household size and income impacts your eligibility for a subsidy if you purchase a plan on the Marketplace under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Household income also determines whether you’re eligible for free or low-cost healthcare plans.
Will You Stay on Your Parents’ Plan or Enroll in Your Own Plan?
Under the ACA, you can remain on your parents’ health plan up to age 262. However, if you’re moving to a new city to attend college, find out if there are local doctors and hospitals that participate in the plan. If the answer is no, that means you may not have coverage if you need medical services while you’re at school. Or, your plan may offer out-of-network coverage, but require that you pay more when you see these doctors.
What Plans Are Cheaper?
Cost is one of the most important factors to consider when choosing a health plan. When evaluating the cost, make sure to include health insurance premiums, deductibles, co-pays, co-insurance, and expenses you will pay out-of-pocket for services that are not covered.
What Plans Offer Better Coverage?
Coverage is the other main consideration when selecting health insurance. Make sure to look at the services that are covered as well as the network of providers you can access for care.
What If You Skip Health Insurance?
If you choose to go without insurance, you will be responsible for all your medical expenses, putting you and your family at risk in the event of a serious illness or injury.
How Do You Get Covered Under Your Parents’ Plan in Alabama?
- If you’re under 26
Up to age 26, the ACA allows you to be covered under your parents’ health insurance plan.
- If you’re over 26
Once you turn 26, you will need your own coverage.
Sticking with Mom and Dad
You can stay on your parent’s plan until you’re 26 but it’s not always the best option.
How Do You Get Covered Under Your School Plan in Alabama?
Schools in Alabama vary as to whether they require students to have health insurance coverage. Even if your school doesn’t require coverage, it may offer a school-sponsored plan that you can choose to enroll in if you’re eligible..
At the University of Alabama, only international students are required to have healthcare coverage. It offers a voluntary school-sponsored plan for eligible students.3 Unlike some colleges, the University of Alabama does not provide free care at its student health center. If you go to the health center, it bills your insurance company for the services you receive. If you don’t have health insurance, you’re responsible for the bill.
On the other hand, if you’re an undergrad at the University of Alabama at Birmingham taking nine or more credits, you’re required to have health insurance. International students and most grad students must also have healthcare coverage.4 If health insurance is mandated, the school auto-enrolls students into its school-sponsored plan. You can opt-out of the plan by completing a waiver demonstrating that you already have a health insurance plan.
Make sure to find out what your school requires, what types of student health insurance plans are offered and how they compare with other options available to you.
How Do You Get Covered through the Affordable Care Act in Alabama?
In Alabama, you can enroll in ACA health plans through the federal health insurance Marketplace, healthcare.gov. Monthly premiums for Alabama Marketplace plans in 2020 ranged from $384-$641, depending on the plan tier. Most enrollees receive federal subsidies to lower their monthly payment. Subsidies are based on your household size and income. Use this calculator to check whether you qualify for a subsidy.
Open enrollment, which runs from November 1 through January 15, is typically the only time you can enroll in or change coverage. Special enrollment periods are available in the event of significant changes in your household or residence; note that moving to or from school qualifies you for special enrollment5.
Depending on your age and whether someone claims you as a dependent on their taxes, you will enroll with your parents or on your own.
- Apply with parents
You will apply with your parents if you are under age 26 and you are staying within your state6.
- Apply by yourself
If you are over age 26 or attending an out-of-state school, you will apply yourself. The income that is listed on your application, however, is subject to whether your parents claim you on their taxes. If you’re a dependent, your application will include your income as well as your parents’. If no one claims you as a dependent, your application will be based on your income alone.
How Do You Get Covered Through Medicaid or CHIP in Alabama?
Alabama is one of 12 states that has not expanded their Medicaid program, so eligibility is limited for adults who are not disabled, elderly, or have dependent children7. In addition, Medicaid coverage is only offered to Alabama residents8. If you are under 19, an Alabama resident, and below 141% of the federal poverty level, Medicaid may be an option for you9.
Alabama also provides low-cost health insurance to children up to age 19 through its Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) called All Kids10. The qualifying income level for All Kids is higher than for Medicaid. If you are over age 18, you can apply on your own, but your parents’ income is still counted.
Coverage for family planning services is also available in Alabama through Plan First. This program covers annual exams and birth control for women ages 19 to 65 and vasectomies for men age 21 and over. Whether you’re eligible for this plan depends on your income11.
There is a combined application form for Medicaid, All Kids and Plan First to help you determine if you’re eligible and to enroll.
What Are Other Options for Coverage in Alabama?
Catastrophic health plans and short-term health insurance are two other options for coverage in Alabama.
To be eligible for a catastrophic health plan, you must be under 30 or meet special hardship or affordability requirements. These plans cost less than traditional plans and cover pre-existing conditions and preventive services. They feature low monthly premiums with very high deductibles12. You can for a catastrophic plan apply through the Marketplace at healthcare.gov. If you’re eligible, you will see these plans displayed among your choices.
Short-term health insurance is designed to fill gaps in coverage. In Alabama, short-term plans can last up to 12 months and can be renewed for up to 36 months. Although short-term plans are typically low-cost, they do not cover essential health benefits or pre-existing conditions, like ACA plans do. Many private health insurance companies offer short-term policies.
What Are Resources for Alabama Students?
The best health insurance resources for students in Alabama are:
- Your school’s student health insurance office or website.
- ACA plans through healthcare.gov.
- Insure Alabama for Medicaid, All Kids and Plan First enrollment.
- Catastrophic insurance.
- Short-term health insurance.
As you prepare for college, make sure you consider all your health insurance options. Comparing the cost and coverage details of your current plan with those available to you in the state of Alabama will ensure you have the coverage you need during the next phase of your life.