Best health insurance options for students

Written by: Gabrielle Smith
Published on October 20, 2021.

For many Americans, college is a time when you head out on your own and embrace unique challenges as a newly independent adult. One of the biggest challenges for students all over the U.S. is securing affordable health insurance. While you may be young and healthy, health insurance keeps you protected in case you get seriously ill or are in an accident.

Navigating the confusing world of insurance and health benefits for the first time may seem daunting, but putting in the time and research is essential to getting affordable coverage. Luckily, we’ve put in the work so you don’t have to!

In this article you’ll find the best health insurance options if you are a college student and need to find and pay for health coverage so you can make smart decisions for your personal health and safety.

New to health insurance? Watch our video for the top healthcare terms you should know

A parent’s health insurance plan

While you may be out from under your parents’ roof, heading out to college doesn’t have to mean forging total independence just yet. If you’ve been covered by your parents’ health insurance plan up until now, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) allows you to stay on their plan until you turn 26.

That means you could potentially be covered during your entire college experience, giving you the chance to focus your time and resources on your education. By the time you turn 26, chances are you’ll be graduated and possibly even have a job that offers health benefits.

It’s important to note that you’re eligible to stay on your parents’ health insurance whether you’re in school full-time, part-time, or not even taking classes at all—so if you need to take a gap year or are taking a break during the summer, you’ll still be covered.

University-sponsored insurance

If you’re not able to rely on your parents for health coverage, you may be able to find an affordable plan through your university. Because many schools require their students to be insured, they’ll offer student plans to help cover medical expenses.

Most student health plans are regulated by the ACA, which means they’ll cover the ten essential health benefits (including hospitalization, prescription drugs, emergency services, and more) with no annual or lifetime benefit maximums.

Each university’s health plan will be a little different, so if you have questions, reach out to your school directly to see if their coverage is the best option for you.

Income-based plans

Another option for health coverage for students is an income-based plan. These are plans that are only offered to Americans who have a financial need based on their annual household income—so if you’re still claimed as a dependent on your parents’ taxes, you may not qualify.

Medicaid is the most common health insurance program for low-income Americans. Keep in mind that Medicaid coverage varies by state, which means what’s covered by Medicaid in one state may not be covered in another.

In addition, Medicaid benefits are usually only valid in the state where the plan originates, and not all states have expanded coverage under the ACA. If you’re eligible for Medicaid, it’s important to double-check the eligibility rules for Medicaid in your home state as well as the state where you’re attending college to make sure you’ll get the coverage you need.

Health insurance plans on the exchange

Lastly, shopping for your own health insurance on the state or federal marketplace, also known as the exchanges, can also be a great option for students. Plans are divided into bronze, silver, gold, and platinum plans, giving you a wide range of options to choose from to help you find a good balance between an affordable premium and a low enough deductible to meet your needs.

If you file your own taxes (and aren’t claimed as a dependent on your parents’ or anyone else’s taxes) you may even qualify for a premium tax credit to help make your health insurance even more affordable.

For employers that have a lot of young or student employees, a health reimbursement arrangement (HRA) is an excellent option to help contribute to your employees’ healthcare. Individual health insurance premiums can be reimbursed, tax-free, through an HRA, as well as over 200 eligible medical expenses.

Learn more about how an HRA works


Like anything you do for the first time, searching for your first health insurance policy can seem tricky to start, but once you understand your options and the resources available to you, securing health coverage will be off your to-do list so you can focus on your education. What’s more, if your employer offers an HRA, you can save even more on your health coverage.

Originally published on October 20, 2021. Last updated October 20, 2021.


Additional Resources

View All Resources