Graduation season is upon us—and if you’re a college student, you might be preparing to move to a new city or get a new job, where you may or may not need to find new health insurance and/or medical providers. Navigating healthcare on your own for the first time can feel overwhelming.
The good news? You have lots of options. Below, we’ll explain all the nuts and bolts of healthcare for new college grads, according to experts.
Health insurance options for college graduates
Even if you have no known medical problems, healthcare coverage is incredibly important. “Medical expenses can arise unexpectedly, and having insurance can protect you from financial hardship,” says Dr. Judy Wright, a family physician.
Your guardians’ health insurance plan
If you’re under age 26 and you’re currently on your parents’ or guardians’ health insurance plan, you can consider staying on it. “This can be a great option if your parents have a good plan that covers your health needs,” says Wright. If you’re moving to a new city, be sure your parents’ plan will cover care in that area. (Most national plans do, according to Wright).
Should you decide to stay on your parents’ plan, be aware of potential privacy concerns. The federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) has a privacy rule that lets patients ask their insurance provider not to send an explanation of benefit (EOB) form to their parents. But your insurance may or may not honor your request. Some states have extra levels of privacy when it comes to reproductive or drug care, so it’s important to do your research if you’re worried about privacy.
A student health insurance plan
If you’re pursuing a graduate degree right after college, Wright says many colleges and universities offer student health plans that provide basic coverage at an affordable cost—a great option if you don’t have the option of being covered under a guardian’s plan, or if you’d rather have your own insurance.
An employer’s health insurance plan
For students who already have a job lined up post-graduation, health insurance may be a benefit. “For some employment, this benefit may kick in immediately on the start date,” says Wright. But some employers have a “probation period,” which basically means you have to wait a certain amount of time for your health insurance to kick in. You should be able to access insurance within 90 days of your start-date.
A marketplace insurance plan
You’re not out of options if you don’t fit the above scenarios. Wright says the Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplace offers a variety of health insurance plans that may be more affordable than private plans for young college grads who don’t have access to other types of insurance plans.
Lastly, if you can’t afford ACA plans, you may be eligible for Medicaid, a state-driven government program that provides health insurance to low-income individuals and families. Each year, Medicaid serves around 1 in 5 Americans. “Eligibility and coverage vary from state to state, so it’s important to check in with your state’s Medicaid program so see if you’re eligible,” Wright says.
How to choose the best insurance plan for you
Before you sign up for insurance, take some time to understand your options. “It can be pretty confusing to know what a copay, deductible, max out-of-pocket amount, and pre-existing condition limitations mean,” says Dr. Janice Johnston, co-founder and medical director of Redirect Health. “Make sure you understand the words in front of you beforehand.”
Once you do your homework, determine the best plan for you. For example, if you are generally healthy and don’t expect to have any health issues, you may feel comfortable with a lower premium (monthly or annual payment) and a higher deductible (the amount of money you need to pay out-of-pocket before your plan starts covering a portion of the cost). On the flipside, if you have a health condition that needs ongoing management, you might feel better paying more every month for a plan with a lower deductible. “Each plan has different benefits and costs, so it’s important to choose a plan that fits both your needs and budget,” says Wright.
What to do when you get new health insurance
Once you officially have insurance, you may want to establish care with new medical providers or continue care with your current providers.
If you want to keep up with your current providers, check if they still take your insurance and be sure to provide them with your new insurance plan information. “Most primary care providers take most plans, but not certain plans,” says Johnston.” It’s good to check with your provider if you want to stay with them to see if they are under that new plan.
However, if you’re moving to a new city, or your current provider won’t accept your health insurance, you’ll want to establish care with new medical providers. You can use Zocdoc to filter providers by insurance plan, and look at reviews to see who might be the best fit for you.
In general, most insurance plans will cover these preventative care measures you’ll want to keep in mind in your post-college life, free of charge.
At minimum, Wright recommends establishing care with a primary care provider who can manage your healthcare. Your PCP can help you stay on track with vaccines and screenings. In general, most insurance plans will cover these preventative care measures you’ll want to keep in mind in your post-college life, free of charge.
PCPs can refer you to specialists if a new health issue comes up, or if you have a health concern that’s too complicated for them to manage alone (such as a severe mental illness or uncontrolled asthma).
Taking the steps to secure insurance and find a medical provider you trust can take time and energy, but hopefully, the process will ultimately save you money—and, more importantly, safeguard your health.