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Arkansas Student Health Insurance Options | Healthcare Coverage and Plans

Updated on September 22nd, 2021

We want to help you make educated healthcare decisions. While this post may have links to lead generation forms, this won’t influence our writing. We adhere to strict editorial standards to provide the most accurate and unbiased information.

As you head off to your college or university, are you making plans for healthcare? Like most college students, you may think you don’t need health insurance because you’re healthy. As a young adult, you’re part of the age group with the highest uninsured rate.1 But if your school requires medical insurance or if you want to be covered, you have several choices in Arkansas.

What You Need to Know

You can get medical coverage through your parents’ plan or your own plan.

Different kinds of insurance come with different costs and benefits.

Student health plans and those that meet Affordable Care Act requirements have limited enrollment periods, while others can be available at any time.

What Are Health Insurance Options for Arkansas Students?

Here are some types of student health insurance policies available in Arkansas:  

  • Through your college or university: Your school may offer an affordable student plan, either its own or from an insurance company. 
  • Your parents’ insurance plan: By law, you can stay on their plan until you’re 26.
  • Health Insurance Marketplace plans: You can buy plans that comply with the Affordable Care Act (ACA) through the federal Marketplace.
  • Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP): No- or low-cost health insurance is available through Access Arkansas, based on your age and income.  
  • Catastrophic health plans: If you’re under 30, you can buy a lower-premium, high-deductible plan that covers serious accidents or illnesses. 
  • Short-term health plans: You can get short-term plans in  that cover up to 364 days initially, renewable for a total of 36 months.
  • Job-based health plans: If you’re working, your employer may offer medical insurance.

Why Do Arkansas Students Need Health Insurance? 

Your school may require you to buy its student health plan or show proof of similar coverage for admission. Or, like one in six young adults, you may have a chronic medical condition that needs managing.2 

The cost of an unexpected illness or accident could put you in debt before you even start working. For example, the government estimates3 that it costs up to $7,500 to fix a broken leg or $30,000 to spend three days in a hospital. 

What to Consider When Searching for Student Health Coverage in Arkansas?

Here are some questions to think about as you look at insurance options:

Will You Attend School In-State or Out-of-State? 

If your parents’ Marketplace plan or job-based plan covers dependents, it can cover you no matter where you go to school. Be sure their plan has network providers close to your school, so they’re easily accessible.

Can Someone Claim You as a Dependent? 

Your parents can claim you as a dependent. If they do, you won’t be able to access premium subsidies if you buy your own Marketplace plan. 

Will You Stay on Your Parents’ Plan or Enroll in Your Own Plan?   

By law, you can stay on your parents’ Marketplace or employment plan until age 26.4 On your own plan, your lower income could qualify you for lower premiums through subsidies.

Check Your Network

If you’re insured through your parents’ healthcare plan, check that it has network providers near your school, especially if you’re an out-of-state student.

What Plans Are Cheaper?

Your (or your family’s) income can determine if you’re eligible for Medicaid’s free or low-cost health coverage or subsidies on Marketplace plans. Catastrophic plans have low premiums, but they don’t qualify for subsidies.5 

What Plans Offer Better Coverage?

Health policies that follow ACA requirements typically offer the most comprehensive coverage. They’re required by law to cover preexisting conditions and “10 essential health benefits,” including hospital care, emergency services, prescription drug coverage and mental health services.  

What If You Skip Health Insurance? 

Arkansas doesn’t mandate health insurance, so you won’t pay a fine for not having insurance. But your school might require healthcare insurance to register you. If it doesn’t, you could save money by not paying insurance premiums. If you need medical care, though, you risk large out-of-pocket bills. 

What Are Health Insurance Rules in Arkansas?

When Arkansas expanded Medicaid, it chose to buy private plans for the people the expansion covered. In 2018, a controversial work requirement was added to the expansion. It was overturned and the state appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, but the Department of Justice has asked that the case be dropped.6 On short-term plans, Arkansas requires certain benefits, though the plans don’t cover all ACA benefits.7

How Do You Get Covered Under Your Parents’ Plan in Arkansas?

You can be added to your parents’ insurance plan during the annual Open Enrollment Period (or during a Special Enrollment Period if you’re eligible).8 Plans that offer dependent child coverage have to extend that coverage to age 26 by law. You qualify even if you don’t live with your parents or if you graduate, get married or have a child.9

How Do You Get Covered Under Your School Plan in Arkansas?

Many schools offer student health insurance plans to their undergraduates if they’re enrolled for a minimum number of credit hours. Health Insurance costs and coverage will vary by school. Some schools add the costs to other school fees, so you can use your financial aid to pay for them. Your school’s admissions office will have more details.10

The University of Arkansas at Fayetteville requires students to pay a health fee of $7.25 per credit hour per semester (or $174 per year) to access comprehensive medical care at the Pat Walker Health Center. Any medical charges not paid by the student or by an insurance plan will be billed to the student’s account. The school gives registered undergraduate students taking at least six credit hours access to a $2,235-per-year health plan offered by Academic HealthPlans and underwritten by UnitedHealthcare Student Resources. 

At Harding University, Student Health Services offers free visits with an RN and reduced costs for other services, as well as connecting with local providers as needed. Health insurance is highly recommended but not a requirement. Harding doesn’t offer its own health plan, but it refers students to the Arkansas Marketplace if they don’t have other health insurance.

The Arkansas State University Student Health Center is available to all registered students. If needed, students are referred to other facilities and providers. Services are offered on a fee-for-service basis and charged to the student’s account. The school doesn’t offer a student insurance plan.

School Plans an Option

Some colleges and universities offer their own student healthcare plans or plans through private insurance companies.

How Do You Get Covered Through the Affordable Care Act in Arkansas?

If you qualify, you can buy an ACA-compliant individual plan through the Arkansas state-based exchange, which uses the federal Health Insurance Marketplace for eligibility and enrollment functions.11 Plans are also available off-exchange from insurers, certified agents, and brokers. The Arkansas Health Insurance Marketplace (AHIM), part of the Arkansas Insurance Department, manages the health insurance exchange’s state-based side.12

Your parents can add you to their plan during the annual Open Enrollment Period, from November 1 to January 15. If you miss that period, you can still be added if you qualify for a Special Enrollment Period in situations like losing other health coverage.

The Marketplace plans run month-to-month, so you can get coverage for less than a full year.

You may want to buy a policy on your own. If you’re eligible, you could lower your out-of-pocket costs with subsidies such as an advanced premium tax credit (APTC) or cost-sharing reductions (CSR) available with specific Marketplace plans.13 About 88% of Arkansans applying for these subsidies qualify for APTCs.14 If you buy ACA plans outside of the Marketplace, you lose access to subsidies. 

How Do You Get Covered Through Medicaid or CHIP in Arkansas?

Medicaid provides coverage to Arkansas residents with low income or disability through the Arkansas Department of Human Services’ Division of Medical Services

In 2014, Arkansas expanded Medicaid under the ACA to cover nearly all nonelderly adults earning under 138% of the federal poverty level.15 The state uses the federal money it receives for Medicaid expansion to help buy private insurance for those individuals.16

The expansion was initially called a “private option,” but it’s now known as Arkansas Works.  

If you’re under 19 and you or your family earn too much for Medicaid, you may qualify for Arkansas’ Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), called ARKids First. If you’re not sure whether you’re eligible, apply online through the Arkansas Department of Human Services or call (888) 474-8275 for help.

You can check your eligibility for any of these programs at Access Arkansas.

What Are Other Options for Coverage in Arkansas?

If you’re under 30, a catastrophic health plan may be a good option. These lower-premium plans are available through the Marketplace.17 Because of the high deductible, you may have to pay for most services out-of-pocket before your coverage begins. Your plan will cover preventive care and three primary care office visits per year before the deductible is met.

Arkansas offers short-term health plans with up to 364 days of initial coverage and renewals totaling 36 months.18 These plans aren’t required to offer ACA-level benefits, but Arkansas mandates certain types of coverage.19 Insurance carriers can reject you for any reason, including for preexisting conditions.20 

Short-term health insurance in Arkansas can be purchased from an insurer or through a licensed insurance agent. Premiums are generally low, but be sure the amount of coverage offered is what you need. 

What Are Resources for Arkansas Students?  

Your school’s admissions office will be able to help you. You can get information on non-school plans through the Access Arkansas and federal Marketplace websites or by calling the Access Arkansas Helpline at (855) 372-1084.

Next Steps

If you decide to get health insurance, look at the many healthcare options available in Arkansas, so you can choose the plan that fits your needs best before you head off to school.



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  2. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. “Young Adults and the Affordable Care Act: Protecting Young Adults and Eliminating Burdens on Families and Businesses.” cms.gov (accessed March 9, 2021).

  3. U.S. Government Website for the Federal Health Insurance Marketplace. “Protection from high medical costs.” healthcare.gov (accessed March 9, 2021).

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  5. U.S. Government Website for the Federal Health Insurance Marketplace. “Catastrophic health plans.” healthcare.gov (accessed March 9, 2021).

  6. Lockwood, Frank E. “Drop Medicaid work case, U.S. high court urged.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, February 23, 2021 (accessed March 16, 2021).

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  12. Arkansas Insurance Department. “About AHIM.” myarinsurance.com (accessed March 9, 2021).

  13. U.S. Government Website for the Federal Health Insurance Marketplace. “How to save on your monthly insurance bill with a premium tax credit.” healthcare.gov (accessed March 9, 2021).

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  15. Kaiser Family Foundation. “Medicaid in Arkansas.” files.kff.org (accessed March 9, 2021).

  16. Advisory Board. “Where the states stand on Medicaid expansion.” advisory.com (accessed March 9, 2021).

  17. Catastrophic health plans.”

  18. Internal Revenue Service, Employee Benefits Security Administration and Department of Health and Human Services. “Short-Term, Limited-Duration Insurance.” Federal Register (August 3, 2018): 38212 (accessed March 9, 2021).

  19. Mandated Benefits.”

  20. Arkansas Insurance Department. “CONSUMER ALERT; Short-Term Health Plans.” insurance.arkansas.gov (accessed March 9, 2021).