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California Student Health Insurance Options | Health Care Coverage and Plans

Updated on July 1st, 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.

What You Need to Know

California has a health insurance requirement under a state mandate.

Many major universities in California automatically enroll students in the campus healthcare plan.

You should price other options against the premiums and health coverage you’ll get through your campus plan.

What Are Health Insurance Options for California Students?

If you’re attending college in California, make sure your to-do list includes health insurance, because having a health policy is mandatory in this state. According to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), you can stay on your parent’s health insurance until you turn 26. In some cases, this may not be your best option. Fortunately, California students have a lot of choices when it comes to getting healthcare coverage.

Why Do California Students Need Health Insurance?

California is one of a few states that require health insurance for residents. Even though health insurance will add another expense to your budget, it can be well worth it. If you have a medical emergency that requires a visit to the ER, urgent care, or a clinic, you’ll have the peace of mind of knowing your care will be covered. Health insurance will also help cover any prescriptions. If you’re searching for student health insurance in California, here are some questions to ask. 

Everyone Needs It

Even if you’re young and healthy, you may need medical care. Healthcare coverage protects your finances in addition to ensuring you can get care if you need it.

Can Someone Claim You As A Dependent?

If your parents claim you as a dependent on their taxes, you are part of their household. Subsidies for an ACA plan, or eligibility for a free or low-cost plan through the government, are based on household size and income. 

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

If you’re covered under your parents’ plan, and you’re attending college in the same state where your parents live, your decision might not be complicated. But if your parents are out of state, make sure your parent’s plan will be accepted at providers near campus before the semester starts. Also look to make sure a covered pharmacy is nearby. If not, you may want to get your own plan. 

What Plans Are Cheaper?

When evaluating the price of student health plans, the cost of the monthly premium is one consideration. You should also factor in the out-of-pocket costs like the deductible, copayments, and coinsurance.

What Plans Offer Better Coverage? 

Make sure that the medical services you anticipate using are covered under the plan you’re considering and that you can go to providers near campus. 

Cost Trade-Offs

If you choose a healthcare plan with lower premiums, you will likely have higher out-of-pocket costs.

What If You Skip Health Insurance?

California residents who forego health insurance face a penalty of $750 per adult when they file their state tax return. If you’re under 18 and on your parents’ plan, California will charge them a $375 penalty per child1.

How to Get Covered Under Your Parents’ Plan in California

  • If you’re under 26

You’ll simply continue the same coverage you had before you started college. 

  • If you’re over 26

Once your turn 26, you’ll need to  find your own healthcare coverage. 

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

Many colleges and universities in California offer a student health insurance plan. For example, UCLA, Stanford University,2 and USC3 have school-sponsored health plans. If your school offers a plan, it’s likely that you will be automatically enrolled in it. You’ll need to complete a waiver form to be able to opt out. Make sure your school’s plan satisfies state requirements. Check your school’s website for information about health insurance and enrollment requirements. 

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

You can shop for ACA plans on the state-run exchange called Covered California. You may be eligible for lower premiums depending on your income and household size.  Use this calculator to see if you qualify for a subsidy. 

  • Apply with your parents:

If your parents claim you on their tax return, include their income as well as yours on the application, even if they aren’t purchasing health insurance. 

  • Apply by yourself:

If you’re 26 or over, or your parents don’t claim you as a dependent on their tax return, include only your income on the application. 

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

Registered students who are not dependents of their parents should also check to see if they qualify for low or no-cost coverage through Medi-Cal, California’s expanded Medicaid system. For lower-income households, the Children’s Health Insurance Plan (CHIP) plan4 could be an option. In California, your family can get healthcare for children through the age of 18. 

What Are Other Options for Coverage in California?

A catastrophic health plan is an inexpensive option available to students under 30. You may also be eligible if you’ve experienced certain hardships. It provides limited coverage in a worst-case scenario.5 You can purchase (if you’re eligible) catastrophic health insurance at Covered California

Short-term health insurance is another low-premium option. A short-term plan will cover you for up to a year. However, unlike ACA plans, these temporary plans are not required to cover preexisting conditions or preventive health services. You can purchase short-term health insurance from private insurers. 

What Are Resources for California Students?

The good news is there’s a wealth of information out there to help you find your best path. Here are a few resources to help get you started:

Next Steps

California’s college students will likely find campus healthcare enrollment is automatic due to the state’s insurance requirement. To keep your premiums as low as possible, look at all your options and compare pricing. Also make sure you’re getting the best health insurance coverage possible, with a plan that’s accepted at off-campus providers as well as at the health clinics on campus.



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  1. Penalty: Covered California™.” Covered California. Retrieved February 19, 2021.

  2. Insurance.” Insurance | Vaden Health Services. Retrieved February 19, 2021.

  3. USC Student Health Insurance Plan.” USC Student Health, 28 July 2020. Retrieved February 19, 2021.

  4. California CHIP Fact Sheet.” The National Academy for State Health Policy. Retrieved February 19, 2021.

  5. How to Buy a Catastrophic Health Insurance Plan.” HealthCare.gov. Retrieved February 19, 2021.