College Bound and Uninsured: 3 Cost-Cutting Options for Your Child

I am fortunate enough to say that I was one of the very few students able to attend a reputable college completely for free—my mother received financial assistance from the government, which in addition to my high grades, made me eligible to apply and win a number of scholarships and grants.

While not having to pay tuition was phenomenal, the moment I turned 18 (which was also the same age I started college) my age made me ineligible to receive medical coverage under my mother’s plan—and as an asthmatic woman with a terrible immune system on a tight-budget, getting sick was darn right frightening.

According to the most recent statistics, more than 1.7 million “traditional-aged” college students are uninsured. The reasons vary, but typically have to do with money—they simply can’t afford it. While your child can take preventive measure to ensure that he or she lowers the chances of getting sick, the truth is that your child is bound to fall ill at least once during their college career. And when this happens, it’s imperative that your child gets the medical attention and medication that they need immediately—having something like walking pneumonia during midterm week can really jeopardize your student’s performance in school.

For parents who can’t afford to purchase health insurance for their child, below are some methods your child can take to cut costs and receive the medical attention he or she needs.

1. Look into Student Health Plans

Because your child is in fact a “college a student,” he or she is most likely eligible to receive student health coverage. Each school varies with providers and students will be responsible for deductibles and co-pays, but it’s a more affordable alternative than traditional health coverage. Some student health plans even cover eye and dental care. To see if your child’s college offers student health coverage, contact the student health center.

While on the same topic, it’s important to note that some schools like the University of Texas automatically charge a “student health service fee” in the total tuition costs. This fee allows your student to receive some health services for free—for example if your child needs a check-up or needs to be examined due to a fever, an on campus doctor will examine your child at no additional cost.

If your child wishes to get x-rays, have a well-woman’s exam, or get lab work for example he or she will need to pay out-of-pocket. Your child will also have to pay for prescriptions which can be pretty nerve wrecking and stressful for some. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be, which leads us to our next tip—

2. Get Cheap Prescriptions

If given a prescription, the first thing your child needs to do is ask if a generic brand will suffice. This is because generic medications are always cheaper. In fact, some major retail pharmacies sell their generic brands for a fraction of the price—for example Wal-Mart offers a $4 plan for their generic medications. Doctors will be honest of the effectiveness of a generic brand.

That said, there are some medications that don’t come in a generic form or isn’t as good. In this case, your child can use some additional assistance to help find the cheapest medication in their immediate area. GoodRX for example uses zip codes to compare prices from physical and online pharmacies as well as other U.S. agencies in your child’s vicinity so he or she can get the fairest price.

3. Know Your Rights

Lastly, if your child still can’t even afford student health coverage but gets extremely ill one day, it’s important your child realizes that by law he or she has the right to go to the emergency room if he or she is in fact suffering from an emergency. It does not matter if he or she is uninsured, he or she cannot be denied. But of course your child will get billed—quite heavily depending on severity of illness and treatment.

So before treatment even begins, make sure your child alerts the physician about his or her financial situation and work out some kind of payment plan with the billing department. Alert your child not to be shy to discuss this upfront either. Most physicians are willing to work with you and can even adjust the costs of some procedures and tests if need be. But your child has to speak up.

4. Don’t Forget the College Health Clinic

Students are often eligible to get health services at their University or College’s medical clinic.  What’s more is that this also provides students with some measure of confidentiality if they’re on their parent’s health insurance plan.  This often includes access to medication at discounted rates.

Getting sick in college can be a very stressful ordeal for an uninsured student, but with some careful planning your child should be able to get the proper care throughout his or her academic career.


Erika is a freelance education and health writer. In her free time she enjoys cooking, dancing and attending musical festivals.

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