4 Surprises for International Students About Health Care

February 21, 2014
4 Surprises for International Students About Health Care

International students pay many college fees every semester that go beyond tuition. Some common fees international students may encounter go toward athletics, technology and, at many schools, mandatory health insurance.

Since many international students need to keep their costs as low as possible while studying in the U.S., students may be confused about why the university requires you to pay for health insurance. Shouldn’t it be optional? The answer, for many students, is no.

As an international student at a U.S. community college, I wasn't required to have health insurance, so I didn't buy any. I didn't understand how important it was to have medical insurance in a country where there is no free medical care until I ended up in the emergency room following a car accident.

A few days later, the bills started coming – and I couldn't believe how much it cost. The hospital reduced my bill, but I regretted not having health insurance during the accident.

The university I now attend requires all students to have health insurance, and I am glad they do because I know no one can predict what will happen in the future. Whatever happens to me, I am covered.The health insurance fee is, if not the most, one of the most important investments an international student will make while studying abroad. Many international students are surprised by the following aspects of health insurance in the U.S.

1. Health insurance is often mandatory: You may be required to maintain health insurance coverage for your whole stay in the U.S.

If your visa doesn’t require you to have medical insurance, your university will probably mandate you get health insurance coverage upon enrollment. In many cases, if you don’t show proof of insurance at the beginning of every semester, your university will not let you register for classes.

2. There is no national or free public medical assistance: Unlike in countries such as Brazil, France and Italy, where you – and even your international friends that come to visit – may have had free access to medical care, in the U.S. access to low-cost or public health care is very limited. Generally, international students are not eligible for most programs.

What that means is if you eventually become ill and need medical assistance, it will cost you.

3. Medical care is expensive: I hope you never need to end up at an emergency room while in the U.S. – a visit can cost you thousands of dollars. Having health insurance will lower your medical costs significantly.

Even if you have health insurance, you may be required to pay what's called an out-of-pocket amount. That cost is typically a small percentage of what the real cost would be if you weren’t insured.

4. University health insurance is often more affordable: Your university may give you the option to buy its own health insurance plan or an outside one. Taking a look at your university’s health insurance options may be a wise choice, because it probably will be cheaper than the insurance offers out there not aimed at students.

Moreover, there is a 100 percent chance that if you buy your health insurance through the university, it will be accepted at your school’s health clinic. Even so, you should still shop around for health insurance and compare the benefits each plan offers.

Access to medical care varies from country to country and if you are planning to study abroad, make sure you are aware of how much it will cost you to have health care coverage throughout your entire stay.

Maintaining health insurance coverage is money well spent while studying abroad – you never know when or if you will become ill or injured.  Avoid surprise bills by being covered. It is not only mandatory in many cases, but also a smart step.

Tagged: international students, health

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