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What Are Health Insurance Options for Washington Students?

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:

Washington colleges and universities don’t require students to have health insurance, but recommend it.

Some schools in the state offer their own affordably priced academic health plans.

If you want to keep your existing plan, make sure that it will provide adequate coverage in Washington.

There are literally hundreds of things to think about when students prepare to head off to college. One thing everyone should think about, but many don’t, is health insurance. Students in Washington have a variety of options when it comes to health insurance. If you have coverage through your parents you can stay on their plan until you turn 26. Your college or university may offer a school-sponsored plan. Or you can purchase a plan on Washington state’s insurance exchange under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). 

Why Washington Students Need Health Insurance

If you’re young and healthy, you may think you don’t need health insurance. But illness and accidents can happen to anyone. Unexpected medical expenses could send you into debt and even prevent you from completing your degree. That’s why most Washington colleges and universities recommend that every student has a policy that includes coverage for emergency services, hospitalization, outpatient care, prescription medications, preventive care and mental health services.

Comprehensive coverage ensures you can receive treatment for health issues that can’t be handled at the campus health center. It will also help ensure you aren’t saddled with crushing medical debt while you’re in school. Here are some questions to consider when looking for healthcare coverage: 

Why Insurance Matters

If you need medical care and don’t have health insurance, you could end up in serious debt.

Are You a Washington Resident Attending a Washington School?

If you are a Washington resident attending a Washington school, it’s likely that whatever coverage you currently have — whether that’s your parent’s health insurance plan, Medicaid (Apple Health) coverage, or a plan through the state-based ACA Washington Health Benefit Exchange — will provide the same coverage while you’re in school.

If you’re a resident of another state who’s coming to Washington to study, your current insurance plan may not provide coverage if you get care from the doctors and hospitals near your school.

Can Someone Claim You as a Dependent?

If a parent (or anyone else) can claim you as a dependent on their tax return, that means you’re part of their household. If you’re applying for an ACA plan, household income includes your parent’s income in addition to yours. If you’re not a dependent on anyone’s tax return, you include only your income on the household income question. Household income is also a factor in determining eligibility for free and low-cost health insurance. 

If you’re leaving your home state to attend college in Washington, you can apply for a Washington Health Benefit Exchange plan on your own, although your parent’s income will be considered on the Marketplace application if you are a dependent.

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

It may cost you little or nothing to remain on your parent’s plan but there are a few factors to consider when making this decision. If you have an out-of-state plan that doesn’t allow you to go to local doctors and hospitals near your school, you may want to get your own plan. Of course, you can continue to see specialists or other providers when you’re home on break, but if you need medical care while at school, it may not be covered. 

Sticking with Mom and Dad

You can stay on your parent’s health plan until you turn 26 but if you’re going to school out-of-state you may not have the coverage you need.

What Plans Are Cheaper? 

If you’re shopping for a plan, be sure to look closely at all the costs, which include:

  • Premiums: the annual cost to have insurance, paid monthly
  • Deductible: the amount you have to spend before your plan starts to contribute toward your healthcare expenses
  • Copays for doctor’s office visits and/or medication
  • Coinsurance: your share of a payment against a claim, which kicks in after you’ve met your deductible

What Plans Offer Better Coverage?

To determine if a plan has the coverage you really need, start by answering these questions: 

  • Are there in-network providers within easy access of where you’ll be going to school? 
  • Does your college’s student health plan only include providers from its own healthcare system? 
  • Is there prescription drug coverage?
  • Are mental health and preventive care covered? 
  • Do you have a pre-existing medical condition that requires frequent treatment and/or medication? If so, are there in-network providers on your parent’s plan or qualified local providers if you switch plans? 
  • If you study abroad, will your plan cover you while you’re there?

What If You Skip Health Insurance?

If you get sick or injured, you risk incurring medical debt if you don’t have health insurance. You may be able to access basic primary and preventive care services at a student health center. Nearly all Washington schools provide campus-based services for minor health issues like flu, sprains and infections, or partner with a local primary care clinic to provide them. At most schools, students taking a minimum number of credit hours pay a flat fee for these health services as part of their tuition and other fees. But if you need medical care that the student health center doesn’t provide, you could be in for some major bills. 

How to Get Covered Under Your Parent’s Plan in Washington

The ACA requires insurance plans to offer coverage for children up to age 26. But before you decide to stay on your parent’s plan, make sure that there in-network providers within easy access of where you’ll be going to school.

How to Get Covered Under Your School Plan in Washington

A few colleges offer students an opportunity to purchase a school-sponsored plan. For example, Western Washington University and Eastern Washington University both offer a school-sponsored health plan with online enrollment open virtually all the time.1 

The University of Washington offers the option to purchase health insurance to international students and graduate student appointees. It does not offer health insurance to domestic undergraduates.2

School-sponsored plans tend to be affordable because they insure a healthy demographic. If you’re eligible to enroll in such a plan, make sure it’s considered qualified health coverage as defined by the ACA.

The best place to get information about student health insurance options for coverage is on your school’s website.

How to Get Covered through the Affordable Care Act in Washington

The Washington Health Benefit Exchange provides ACA Marketplace plans to residents. 

In 2020, monthly premiums for Marketplace plans ranged from $305 to $435 depending on the plan level. The advantage of ACA plans is that you may qualify for a subsidy, depending on your household income. 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. Moving to Washington to go to college may also qualify you to enroll during a Special Enrollment Period, although you must have been covered by a plan providing minimum essential services for at least one day during the 60 days before your move.

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’ application if they’re also in the market for healthcare coverage.

  • Apply by yourself:

If you are over age 26 or attending an out-of-state school you will apply yourself. 

If you’re under 26 and your parents claim you as a dependent on their tax return, you are part of their household even if you’re not living at home. When the application asks for household income, include yours plus your parent’s. If you’re not claimed as a dependent on anyone’s tax return, you should only include your income. You may be more likely to get a subsidy if you apply on your own because only your income will be taken into account. 

How to Get Covered through Medicaid or CHIP in Washington

Washington’s Medicaid program, Apple Health, covers Washington residents ages 19-64 who are not Medicare-eligible and who meet income standards based on household size. In 2021, a single person with monthly income of $1,468 or less is currently eligible. Pregnant women can also get coverage and if single, there is no minimum income requirement.

If you are a Medicaid recipient in another state, Washington will provide Apple Health coverage to you when you become a resident of the state. If moving to Washington from another state, you cannot apply until you move to the state and become a resident.3

You can find Information about Apple Health on the Washington State Health Care Authority website. Application is handled through the same Washington Health Plan Finder website as used for Washington Health Benefit Exchange plans. Enrollment in Apple Health is always open and coverage begins immediately.

To qualify for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), you must be age 18 or younger or be the primary caregiver for a child age 18 or younger. You must also be uninsured and ineligible for Medicaid. Applications are handled through the Washington State Health Care Authority.

What Are Other Options for Coverage in Washington?

Catastrophic health insurance plans have low premiums but high deductibles. People under the age of 30 are eligible to apply for a catastrophic plan. These plans provide the same essential health benefits and some preventive services as regular Marketplace plans.

Short-term health insurance plans are more affordable than traditional plans because they’re not required to cover preexisting conditions or essential health benefits. as defined by the Affordable Care Act

In Washington, you can buy a short-term plan up to three months in any 12-month period. A short-term plan might be a good choice if you need something temporary while you look for a more permanent solution.

There are a variety of travel health insurance plans that may provide coverage for students while studying abroad, either fully or as gap coverage for benefits not covered by your existing health insurance plan. Some academic plans offered by Washington colleges may provide limited coverage for students studying abroad.

Resources for Washington Students

Eastern Washington University – provides information about student health insurance and student health services

Short-Term Health Insurance in Washington – provides specific information about coverage in Washington. See also Washington Office of the Insurance Commissioner

Special Enrollment Period – provides information specific to Washington Health Benefit Exchange enrollment

Student Health Plans & Other Options – provides information from healthcare.gov

University of Washington – provides information about student health insurance and student health services

Washington Health Insurance – provides information about general health insurance options in Washington

Washington Medicaid Program – includes eligibility requirements and applications

Western Washington University – provides information about student health insurance and student health services

Next Steps

Though few Washington colleges and universities require students to have health insurance, it’s a wise decision to have coverage. Finding which plan provides the best benefits for you at the best price requires a little homework, though the right option may be to remain on your parent’s plan, if possible. 

If you aren’t a Washington resident, make sure you talk to your existing plan provider, if you have one, about any coverage limitations while you’re going to school. 

Once you decide what’s the best health insurance coverage for you, you can focus on the college experience, knowing you’re covered for any health issues, should they arise. 

Article Sources

1.  Academic health plans offered at Western Washington University and Eastern Washington University

2.  University of Washington student health plan options

3.  Washington State Medicaid residency requirements



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  1. Academic health plans offered at Western Washington University and Eastern Washington University

  2. University of Washington student health plan options

  3. Washington State Medicaid residency requirements