If Student Health Insurance is provided automatically as part of tuition costs, should you drop your kid from your family health policy and rely exclusively on the school coverage? Should you buy the optional student health insurance available from your kid’s college?

These questions are best answered after examining a full copy of the student insurance policy. In almost every case, the policy includes:

  • Excellent preventive care — coverage for physicals, eye exams, and so on — at the student health center on campus
  • Excellent coverage for other doctor care, if the care is provided at the student health center
  • Hospitalization coverage at the university’s hospital, but usually only for a limited time (such as 30 days)
  • Poor medical coverage away from school — both hospital and doctor
  • Poor coverage for substantial medical bills
  • Often, no coverage during the summers

student health insuranceInsurance pros recommend keeping your student insured on the family health plan and buy the student health coverage, too. The school’s coverage is usually pretty inexpensive. Plus, many family heath plans don’t cover expenses incurred at your student’s college health center anyway, and the student health insurance plans available from colleges always cover these expenses.

If your kid can just drop by the campus health center, she’s a lot more likely to get the care she needs than if she has to trek to the nearest hospital or doctor whom your plan covers. So buying the student health insurance plan can help keep your student healthier. Most elementary and secondary schools send information home with students about insurance for injuries that occur on school grounds or at school events. It’s most commonly offered to student-athletes.

When you need temporary health insurance Many states allow health insurance companies to offer the public temporary health coverage to meet short-term needs (such as covering a person who’s between jobs or a college student who isn’t covered by student health insurance during the summer). Coverage is usually available in increments of 30, 60, 90, 120, and sometimes 180 days, and it’s usually quite good — typically, temporary policies have a coverage limit of $1 million or more, and they usually include freedom of choice and a maximum amount on out-of-pocket expenses.

The biggest advantage to a temporary policy is that you can qualify with almost no medical questions asked. Coverage can be immediate, if needed. But temporary coverage has several disadvantages. Preexisting conditions aren’t covered. If you’ve ever been treated for a condition in the past, you won’t be covered if the condition flares up again.

The insurance is usually not renewable. When the coverage period you’ve chosen ends, so does the coverage — often, even if you’re lying seriously ill in the hospital. Claim payments are often delayed. Coverage outside the country is often excluded. Because of these major limitations, you generally want to avoid buying temporary insurance unless you have no other option. If you’re between jobs, continue your group coverage from your prior employer under COBRA if you can.

If he’s not eligible for COBRA (in other words, if you have an individual policy or your employer has too few employees to qualify for COBRA), set him up with his own individual policy the first time he drops out of school. Then just keep his individual policy in force during the revolving-door period. If he were turned down for health insurance because of health history issues, he would have the guaranteed right to an individual policy under HIPAA.

If you have a kid who can’t seem to make up his mind about going to college (he’s in for a semester, out for a semester, back in for a semester, and so on), and you’re covered by a group policy that is eligible for COBRA continuation rights, here’s how you might handle it:

When he drops out, notify your employer to exercise the 36-month COBRA continuation option. This way, your kid stays insured under your group insurance. The only difference is that you’ll foot 100 percent of his premium costs (if you weren’t already) while he’s out of school. When he returns to school (and is taking the required number of credits), cancel COBRA and add him back onto your coverage as a dependent.

Each time he drops out and then returns, follow these same steps, until he reaches the maximum age for students to be covered under your policy — usually age 25. If he’s still in school when he reaches the maximum age for students to be insured on your policy, or if he’s without insurance for any other reason, exercise his 36– month COBRA option until he can arrange coverage on his own individual health policy.

Assuming that a temporary health insurance policy doesn’t have any exclusions to worry about, and that it’s reasonably priced, buy it if you have a high deductible on your health insurance plan. If you have minimal deductibles or co-payments, don’t buy it. It just duplicates coverage you already have. Never drop your college student from your family health insurance plan, even if you buy the student health insurance offered by the college. You’ll need your family plan for any serious claims. And for summer coverage for college students, keep them continuously insured all year round under your family health plan.

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