R.S. of Woodmere, NY writes:

My child will be a college freshman this fall and is covered under our family health insurance plan. Do we need to purchase health/medical insurance through the school?

The College Whisperer responds:

While one would surmise that a covered person, including a student dependent, would be similarly covered for routine health care and medical emergencies while away at school, as he or she is at home, this is not always the case.

Just as not all health care providers -- whether doctors or hospitals -- take all insurance, so to does acceptance of health insurance plans vary widely from campus to campus.

Here, as elsewhere, an educated consumer is the the best protected, both in times of health and sickness.

Check with the college's health services office to see if your insurance plan is accepted and, even if it is, what is and what is not covered.

For instance, campus health services may accept your insurance coverage, as either full or partial payment, for, say, a routine flu shot (co-payments may apply), but if Junior sprains his ankle running to class or to that Thursday night frat party and requires emergency medical attention, your coverage may do you no good at all, leaving Junior -- or you -- to foot (pun intended) the bill.

Also, should your child need medical attention beyond the campus, such as at a local hospital, you want to be certain that the hospital accepts the insurance you carry. Your health insurance provider can give you a list of participating doctors and hospitals in close proximity to the college your child will be attending.

Most colleges offer accident and sickness plans, varying in both price and coverage. Private coverage for students away at college is also available. You should read the material provided for these plans (often available online on the college website) carefully before you sign on or pay up, looking to see how such plan shapes up against existing coverage, whether the overlap of covered services negates any savings to cover the gap in coverage, and whether the benefit of such coverage, particularly where the student is otherwise covered by the family's health insurance plan, is worth the extra cost.

Typically, students who are covered under their parents' health plans can waive required coverage as is provided (for a fee) by the school. Whether this is a wise decision is dependent upon several factors, including the scope and breadth of both the parents' plan and the college plan, the cost attendant to additional coverage, and one's tolerance for the risks associated with the possibility of additional out-of-pocket expenses should Junior require medical care on campus, either for sickness or accident, while away at college.

As a general rule, if the student is otherwise covered by your health/medical policy, you do not need to buy in to the college's plan (unless the school requires that you do so as a prerequisite for admission) or to purchase additional private coverage. Again, coverage and benefits may vary.

One final thought: Under the newly enacted health care reform, children (whether or not students or dependents on their parents' tax return) will be covered under their parents' policies (those that offer dependent coverage) until age 26. Hopefully, they will have graduated college by then. ;-)

For an interesting read on health insurance at college, check out the Wall Street Journal article, Don't Get Sick on Campus.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of The College Whisperer.
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