Laundry detergent, canned goods and a mini refrigerator. These are just a few of the hundreds of "essentials" you may find on any college student's list of things to load into the car when heading back to campus. This year, there are few other items you and your parents should add to the list, or at least know about.
College students have some new - and some not-so-new - insurance options.
At the top of the insurance list is health care insurance for the student. Some colleges and universities require students to have medical insurance before they can enroll in classes. Even if your school doesn't, it's a good idea to have insurance - you never know when you're going to sick. There are several options:
1. Parents' Policy. You're probably able to stay on your parents' policy. Under the new health care reform laws, "dependant" children can be covered until they turn 26 years old. Dependant has some technical meanings, but generally it means you rely on your parents for financial support.
This can save you money, and it probably gives you good coverage for many things, from prescription drugs to major medical procedures. The downside? You may have trouble finding a doctor away from home who's covered by the plan if the plan is based on "networks." This may mean out-of-pocket expenses for you. Parents and students should check with doctors in the school's area before the student goes to campus.
2. Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA). This may be for you if you just quit your job so you could go to college and had employer-paid health insurance. It's also available if you're over 26 and were covered by your parents' plan. COBRA lets you continue your old coverage temporarily. Again, if the old coverage was based on networks, you may have out-of-pocket expenses. Also, COBRA coverage isn't cheap, either.
Parents and students should talk to their employers about COBRA before classes begin.
3. Coverage through school. Many colleges and universities offer health coverage and usually at a low cost. They usually provide good coverage for minor illnesses and injuries. However, they usually won't cover much of the bills for major medical procedures or serious illnesses. Some schools offer a variety of plans with different coverage and limits or "caps."
Check with the school about the details of its coverage and compare it to your other options.
4. Buy your own. Start with your parents' agent or broker and get a quote. You may be able to choose from a variety of plans, starting with simple coverage for office visits and flu shots to major medical procedures. You might be surprised at how affordable it is for young students.
However, your eligibility for insurance and your rates depend on your health right now. Healthy students won't have problems. Students with medical conditions - diabetes, asthma, etc. - may be denied coverage. It's not until 2014 when insurers won't be able to refuse coverage for people with pre-existing medical conditions. But, you may be able to find affordable coverage under the new Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan.
Look at and think carefully about all of your options, and if at all possible, get medical insurance. You don't need huge medical bills on top of your tuition and student loan responsibilities.
There are other important insurance matters, too. Make sure your car insurance meets the laws in the state where the college is located if you're taking your car to school. Coverage requirements in your home state probably aren't the same in another state.
Protect your property, too. Whether you're living on or off campus, in a dorm or a rented house, your personal belongings - clothes, TV, stereo - are at risk. The school or landlord's insurance covers the building, but if there's a fire or if a thief steals your stuff, you'll have to pay to replace it.
Property insurance or "renter's insurance" can save you a lot of money. Talk to your insurance agent or your parents' agent to see if you can get this coverage.
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