What you need to know:
If you’re currently covered under your parents’ plan, determine whether your benefits will carry over to your new location.
Your school may require you to have health insurance and may offer a school-based plan.
Do your homework and compare all your options to find the best health insurance coverage for you.
Planning for college is exciting and a little overwhelming. One important thing you and your parents should be thinking about as you get ready to go off to school is health insurance. Fortunately, if you are attending college in Illinois, you have many options.
Why Illinois Students Need Health Insurance?
Many colleges require some or all students to have health insurance coverage. If your school doesn’t require it, you may wonder if you really need it. After all, it is an added expense on top of what you’re already paying for tuition, room and board. But medical care can be costly. Whether a health policy is required or not, having coverage protects you from sudden medical costs during an already expensive time in your life. If you skip health insurance, you could end up in significant medical debt if you have an unexpected illness or injury. Here are some things to consider when searching for student health coverage in Illinois.
Required at Many Schools
Health insurance is mandatory at many schools in Illinois.
Will You Attend School In-State or Out-of-State?
Most health insurance plans provide care through networks of providers within defined geographic areas. If you are traveling away for school (whether to an in-state or out-of-state campus), your current policy may not provide adequate coverage. If that is the case, there are other options for health insurance in Illinois, regardless of residency.
Can Someone Claim You as a Dependent?
For plans under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and other programs that are income based, you are considered a member of your parents’ household if they claim you as a dependent on their taxes. That means their income, in addition to yours, is used to determine eligibility and subsidies. If your parents do not claim you on their taxes, only your income will be counted.
Will You Stay on Your Parents’ Plan or Enroll in Your Own Plan?
If providers in the city where your school is located are out-of-network, you’ll need to consider other options.
What Plans Are Cheaper?
When assessing the cost of health insurance, plans with lower premiums — the amount you pay each month for the insurance — may seem cheaper. There are other costs to consider. The amount of the plan’s deductible, co-pays, and coinsurance, impact your out-of-pocket costs when you use your insurance to get care. In general, plans with lower premiums have higher out-of-pocket costs if you need to go to a doctor or hospital.
What Plans Offer Better Coverage?
When comparing coverage, you should look at the types of services that are covered as well as the network of providers you can access for those services.
How to Get Covered Under Your Parents’ Plan in Illinois
- If You Are Under 26
The ACA allows students to remain on their parents’ health plan up to age 261. In Illinois, you can remain on your parent’s policy up to age 30 if you are a military veteran2. Understanding whether your current plan will provide coverage while you are away at school is the first step in assessing your college health insurance needs.
- If You Are Over 26
If you are over the age of 26 (or over age 30 in Illinois if you are a military veteran), you will need to find your own coverage.
You can stay on your parent’s health insurance until you’re 26 but make sure you can go to the doctors near your school.
How to Get Covered Under Your School Plan in Illinois
Many schools in Illinois, including the University of Illinois (Urbana, Chicago, and Springfield) require all campus-based students to have health insurance3. Other schools require only some students to have health coverage. For example, at DePaul University, only international students need to have health coverage4.
If your school requires you to have health insurance, they will probably enroll you into their university-sponsored plan automatically and include the premium on your student account. You can opt-out of the student health plan, but you will need to show proof each semester/year that you have comparable coverage and complete a health insurance waiver form before the set deadline. Even if your school doesn’t require health insurance, it may still offer a school-sponsored plan. Check with your school to find out what they require and what resources they provide for enrolling in student health insurance or an off-campus option.
How to Get Covered through the Affordable Care Act in Illinois
Illinois offers a Health Insurance Marketplace in partnership with the federal government called Get Covered Illinois. In 2020, monthly premiums for Marketplace plans ranged from $361-$499 depending on the plan level. The advantage of ACA plans is that you may qualify for a subsidy, depending on your household income. The majority of enrollees received federal subsidies to lower their monthly payments. Subsidies are based on your household size and income. Use this calculator to check whether you qualify for a subsidy.
Generally, you can only sign up for a Marketplace plan during Open Enrollment, which occurs annually between November 1 and December 15. There are special circumstances, such as moving to or from school, under which you can enroll outside of this window5.
Depending on your age and dependency status you will apply with your parents or on your own.
- Apply with parents:
If you are under age 26 you can be included on your parents’ application6.
- Apply by yourself:
If you are over age 26 or attending an out-of-state school you will apply yourself.
If your parents claim you as a dependent on their tax return, you are still considered a member of their household. That means your application will include your parents’ income as well as your own. If no-one claims you as a dependent, you should only report your income.
How to Get Covered Through Medicaid or CHIP in Illinois
The state of Illinois operates a number of assistance programs to help low-income residents obtain no-cost or low-cost health coverage. Eligibility is based on income and varies by program.
Medicaid in Illinois is called FamilyCare. Eligible recipients include parents caring for children under age 18, pregnant women, disabled individuals, and those over age 657. If you are currently enrolled in Medicaid and are headed to Illinois for college, contact your local Medicaid office to check eligibility rules as you move back and forth.
The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) in Illinois is called All Kids and provides coverage up to age 19, which may make it an option for first-year college students8. You can check your eligibility and apply for both programs at Illinois Applications for Benefits Eligibility.
What Are Other Options for Coverage in Illinois?
Two other options for student coverage in Illinois are catastrophic health plans and short-term health insurance.
If you’re under 30 you may be eligible for a catastrophic health plan. If you’re over 30, you may be eligible for a catastrophic plan if you have suffered certain hardships. These plans provide benefits as required by the ACA and cost less than Marketplace plans. However, if you need medical care, your out-of-pocket costs will be high.9 You can enroll in a catastrophic plan in Illinois at Get Covered Illinois10.
Short-term health insurance is designed to fill gaps in coverage that last up to 6 months in Illinois. These temporary plans are generally low-cost but do not cover essential health benefits or preexisting conditions like ACA plans do. Many private health insurance companies offer short-term policies.
What Are Resources for Illinois Students?
The best health insurance resources for students in Illinois are:
- Your school’s student health insurance office or website.
- Get Covered Illinois (for Marketplace enrollment).
- Illinois Application for Benefits Eligibility (for Medicaid and CHIP program enrollment).
- Catastrophic health insurance
- Short-term health insurance in Illinois.
Choosing health insurance that will meet your healthcare and financial needs during your college years is a critical step in preparing for college. Now that you know what types of health insurance are available, it’s time for you and your parents to compare your options and decide what level of coverage is right for you.