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Health Insurance for International Students - USA & Canada

Health Insurance for International Students – USA & Canada 

by Aatif Nafees
Reading Time: 11 minutes

Getting admission in a college and going abroad for higher education asks for a lot of preparation. These preparations are not limited to academics, but also cover a lot of other prerequisites including piles of paperwork for admission and visa application, etc. But, one of the most ignored aspects which people often overlook is the student insurance policy. 

This article is the first in a series of articles that we will publish, wherein we will talk about health insurance for students travelling to different study abroad destinations. In this article, in particular, we shall talk about health insurance for students in the USA and Canada.

Health Insurance for International Students – Why is it Important?

For international students who are starting a new life in a foreign country, health insurance can actually be a lifesaver and is mostly a prerequisite of the host country. When students plan to study abroad, health problems and measures to deal with them are not the top considerations. But this doesn’t take away the seriousness and the importance of insurance. A small ambulance bill or even a dental filling cost is capable of shaking the student’s budget if he/she is not adequately secured by insurance. Hence, insurance cover is an excellent idea for someone who is starting out at a new place. In the worst-case scenario, these health care plans also cover the hospital bills and the evacuation cost (the costs of a service to deliver a student to life-saving care that may not be available at the student’s location). Study Abroad

Some of the benefits which make student insurance a must for every student are listed below – 

  • No Government-Sponsored Healthcare – In the absence of a government-sponsored insurance plan, if a student faces health issues, he/she will be paying the hospital bills for a long time. Depending on the location, these bills can be very high and can disturb the tenure of a student studying abroad. In such a case, having health insurance covers the unexpected cost and saves a student’s chance to keep studying in the place of his/her choice. 
  • Subsidized Doctor Fee – In the USA, the average cost of a single doctor visit without an insurance cover is between USD 100 – 200. The cost elevates to USD 1,500 – USD 3,000 for a simple ER visit or a night stay in an emergency room. Health expenses are unavoidable and unexpected at the same time. If not prepared for, a simple health problem can cost more than an entire semester fee. Health insurance helps in keeping this unexpected cost under check and avoid many financial issues for students.
  • Dedicated Benefits: Student insurance plans are drafted while keeping the special needs of international students in mind. Many of these insurance plans cover pre-existing injuries, mental health, sports injuries, maternity expenses, hospitalization, and prescriptions. They are suitable to cover the extended treatment, which can easily drain any student’s funds.
  • Renewing an Insurance Plan: Unlike ordinary insurance plans, which are renewed annually, students plans provide students with insurance for the duration of their course. Generally, students have to buy a single insurance plan at the beginning of their course, which helps in keeping the cost in check.
  • Lower Insurance Premium:  Since students are young and healthy, the premium for their insurance plan is more affordable than an ordinary insurance plan. Hence, these plans are a better choice in terms of cost-saving.

All the popular study abroad destinations have made student insurance plans mandatory for both international as well as domestic students. Some universities include health insurance cost in the course fee to make sure that student gets necessary medical attention whenever necessary. The reason for such an excessive emphasis on a health cover is the exorbitant medical cost and, as students are expected to stay for an extended duration, i.e. 2 to 3 years, no student will be able to bear the medical cost without an insurance cover. 

Health Insurance for International Students – Insurance Terminology 

Before going into the details of various health care plans for students in the US and Canada, let’s discuss some frequently used words on insurance – 

  • Claim: A claim is sent if an accident occurs. You can do this by hand or online. You usually need to submit receipts, reports, and photos with this. 
  • Premium: This is what you pay every month/every six months/annually or one time,  to get an insurance cover. 
  • Deductible: The deductible is simply the part of the risk you’re taking on in case of trouble. This is a predetermined amount that you must pay in an insurance claim BEFORE the insurance coverage kicks in and the provider begins paying you.   Once you pay your deductible, the insurance provider will pay you the rest of the claim value up to the policy limits and conditions. A deductible can range significantly and will impact your premiums; the higher your deductible, the lower your monthly costs generally are. 
  • Co-Insurance: Beyond your deductible, your plan might include co-insurance payments, which is a percentage of what you’ll be charged after your deductible is reached/exceeded. This is typically a percentage, like 10%. 

Let’s say your health insurance plan’s allowed amount for an office visit is $200 and your coinsurance is 20%. 

    • If you’ve paid your deductible: You pay 20% of $200, or $40, while your insurance provider pays the rest. 
    • If you haven’t paid the deductible: you pay the full allowed amount of $200. 
    • Keep in mind that allowable costs increase for insurance against high medical costs, changing the above mentioned scenario.
  • Co-payment or co-pay: This is similar to a co-insurance provision, except that co-pays require the insured to pay a fixed amount directly to the doctor when services are rendered. 
  • In and out of network: When you have health insurance in the United States, it will likely fall in one of two categories—HMO (Health Maintenance Organizations) or PPO (Preferred Provider Organization). With an HMO plan, you pick one primary care physician. All your health care services go through that doctor. That means that you need a referral before you can see any other health care professional, except in an emergency. PPO plans give you flexibility. You don’t need a primary care physician. You can go to any health care professional you want without a referral.Study Abroad

Health Insurance for International Students – How to choose the best insurance plan for yourself?

While choosing an insurance plan one should consider these three points –

  • How often you visit the doctor in a typical year – If you have a medical condition due to which you have to visit a doctor frequently, a plan which covers such issues should be taken.
  • Whether it covers the medications you regularly take – If you are under medication and have to take them regularly, you will definitely want to choose a plan which covers those medicines.
  • What is the extent of the coverage for certain medical conditions – In case you suffer from a medical condition, you should enquire the full extent of cover provided by the plans available and choose the one which offers complete backup.

Health Insurance for International Students – Health Insurance Policy to Study in the United States

The insurance requirement by the US State Department is structured according to the visa level applied by the student. Shown below are the specific health insurance requirements as per the  visa applied for, as determined by the U.S. State Department – 

  • J-1 visa: This non-immigrant visa is given to research scholars, professors, and exchange visitors. According to the J-1 visa conditions, it is necessary to have medical insurance for the full length of the programme.
  • J-2 visa: The spouses and dependents of J-1 exchange visitors must also be covered by medical insurance for the full length of the program.
  • F-1 visa: International students who hold an F-1 visa are not required by the U.S. government to have health insurance.
  • M-1 visa: International students enrolled in technical and vocational programs on an M-1 visa are not required by the U.S. government to have health insurance.

Even though the U.S. government does not set health insurance requirements for students on F-1 or M-1 visas, many schools and universities have established their own insurance guidelines. 

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Health Insurance for International Students – Health care offered by various schools in the USA

Now, let’s see the different types of health care offered by various schools in the USA –

  • Many American universities like the University of California have made it compulsory for every student to opt for their student insurance plan. The cost of the insurance is included in the fee and provides cover for the full length of the programme.  
  • There are other institutes like Southern Methodist University which offer their students to sign a waiver to decline the university insurance plan if the student can prove that he/she has enough health cover to sustain for the duration of the course.
  • Some schools like the University of South Carolina allow their students to choose their own plans. Students can make a choice from different options of insurance which differ in premium amount and the cover they offer. Students can also consult the International Student Office to compare the plans and decide which plan works best for them.

Health Insurance for International Students – How the USA handles Student Insurance 

Yes, international students should buy health insurance given that health care in the US is very expensive. Indian students constitute a big part of the international student community in the US. These Indian students can buy student health insurance designed by the Indian insurance companies depending on their university requirements.

These are the following ways the university in USA handles the student insurance.

1. The first category is a mandatory university health insurance for its students. It means the student is automatically enrolled for university sponsored health insurance giving no option to choose his own coverage. The cost of such insurance plans are approximately 3 to 4 times more than the Indian insurance providers. 

2. In the second category, the university is willing to accept the insurance purchased outside the college campus but with a fulfillment of certain benefit requirements. They have a list of mandatory benefits which the health insurance purchased outside the campus should satisfy before they can waive off the university insurance. Here the student gets a chance to look for the student health insurance off campus. The student has to check the list of benefit requirements which the university has mentioned and look for an equivalent international student health insurance. According to the American College Health Association the average student health insurance plan costs between USD 1,500 and USD 2,500 per year. The plan, which provides medical, counselling, prescription, vision and dental services, costs USD 1,497 per semester for undergraduates in 2018-2019 and USD 2,373 per semester for graduate students, per the school website.

3. There are many Indian insurance companies which have designed international student plans which suit most of the university requirements. The common requirements are unlimited health insurance cover, less deductible, no limit for the doctor visits, evacuation, repatriation, cover for pre-existing diseases, mental and nervous disorders, alcohol and drug dependency, sports cover and more. Most of these benefits are included in the Indian student plans. The student has to look at the university requirement and buy the policy online. Among the popular student plans are the Bajaj Allianz student travel insurance. The advantage of this plan is that along with health coverage, they also have other non-medical benefits which US university insurance plans do not cover.

4. The university does not have any health insurance requirement. The onus is on the student to buy a student health insurance of his/her choice. Buying the Bajaj Allianz student insurance is very logical since the Indian student pays for the coverage in Indian Rupees while getting insurance coverage in US Dollars.

Health Insurance for International Students – Health Insurance Policy to Study in Canada 

Canada is famous for its free health care system. But the majority of these services are offered only to its citizens and permanent residents. Temporary residents like international students are usually not covered under these plans. Health care system varies in Canada from province to province. It is advisable that students get  familiar with the health care system of the province they are planning to go to. Some provinces do cover international students in the provincial health care plan but the majority of the provinces require students to register for a private health care plan. In the event of an emergency, all provinces and territories will provide free services, even if a patient does not possess a government health card. However, there may be significant restrictions on the services that can be provided depending on a person’s immigration status. 

There are two options international students who are not covered under provincial insurance, have for their healthcare insurance in Canada – 

  • They can purchase private insurance from an insurance company.
  • They may register for insurance through their school.

To provide you with some more clarity, let’s take a look at insurance regulations practised by some provinces in Canada, where the most number of Canadian universities are located-

  • Alberta – International students who are studying in Alberta for at least six months are covered under Alberta Health Care Insurance Plan (AHCIP). It is to be noted that this is a basic healthcare plan and doesn’t cover dental care or prescription drugs. If an international student is unable to obtain coverage under AHCIP, they must purchase a private plan through an insurance company.
  • British Columbia – International students studying in British Columbia for a period of six months or more are covered under its Medical Services Plan (MSP). It is noteworthy that students can only apply for MSP after they have arrived and the application process takes three months to complete. Most schools automatically register students for a private health plan to cover this period. Some of these plans also include extended packages as supplements to the basic MSP. Some schools have also made these supplement packages compulsory for students.
  • Manitoba -International students are not covered under Manitoba’s provincial healthcare plan. Students have to buy a basic healthcare package and have the option to purchase extended medical insurance from either their educational institution or a private health insurance company.
  • Newfoundland and Labrador – International students are eligible for free basic health coverage through the Newfoundland and Labrador province’s Medical Care Plan (MCP) provided that they are enrolled in full-time studies for a period of at least 12 months. International students who are not eligible for this program must purchase private health coverage for the duration of their stay in Canada.
  • Ontario – International students in Ontario are not eligible for the provincial Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP). All higher education institutions in Ontario offer health insurance plans that are available to international students and include the cost in the total university fee. Public universities generally offer health insurance through the University Health Insurance Plan (UHIP), while colleges and other private institutions may present options from other providers.
  • Quebec – Quebec has reciprocity agreements with ten different countries which sometimes enables residents of these countries to register for free basic health insurance and India is not one of them. Indian students have to buy a private healthcare plan offered by their educational institute in Quebec.

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Health Insurance for International Students – Out-of-Province Medical Insurance in Canada

Provincial healthcare coverage, whether offered by the government or a private provider, will only cover issues occurring in that specific province. Students who plan to travel to other provinces of Canada and other countries, will have to discuss this with their health insurance provider and upgrade their plan accordingly in order to cover medical expenses incurred during travel.

Health insurance may sound like a trivial thing and slip out when you are planning more exciting stuff but do not underestimate its importance. Planning in advance makes sure you are ready with whatever health issue you may face during your stay abroad. Best of Luck. 

Health Insurance for International Students – FAQs 

Q. What does the basic health insurance cover?

A: A basic health insurance typically covers immediate health-related issues. Emergency visits and the issues discussed in the policy are also covered. Dental care, cosmetic surgeries, extended stays at hospital etc, are not covered under basic health care plans.

Q. What are the important things I should look for while deciding on a health care cover?

A: Every health care plan is different and one plan may suit somebody more than others. While choosing a health care plan, here are the three things which you should consider:

  1. How much are the monthly premiums for the plan you’re considering?
  2. What are the plan’s out-of-pocket costs, including the deductible, copayments, and coinsurance?
  3. What services are covered before and after you meet your deductible?

Q. What is the average cost of health insurance in the US?

A: According to the American College Health Association the average student health insurance plan costs between USD 1,500 and USD 2,500 per year. The plan, which provides medical, counselling, prescription, vision and dental services, costs USD 1,497 per semester for undergraduates in 2018-2019 and USD 2,373 per semester for graduate students, per the school website.

Q. What is the average cost of health insurance in Canada?

A: As per the Canada Insurance Plan, the average yearly premium for obtaining a health insurance ranges from CAD 600 to CAD 900.Study Abroad

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