Health Insurance for International Students in the US: Benefits, Policies, Facilities, Requirements

By Subhashri Roy Updated On - Sep 08, 2021 03:21 PM

Planning your higher education in the US but don't have health insurance? Find out all about health insurance plans for international students studying in the US including the benefits, facilities, requirements and more. 

Going to the US for higher studies? Well, you must keep in mind the need to have access to immediate healthcare, especially when the world is still battling the COVID-19 pandemic. No matter how old or healthy you are, planning your higher education in the United States should include preparing for unexpected medical expenses.

The US, where millions of international students go to study every year, is widely popular when it comes to availability and coverage of health insurance plans. While many US universities have their own group insurance plans, the country also assures “essential health benefits” to all under the Affordable Care Act.

To offset medical risks or chances of paying for health services out of their own pockets, a growing number of international students going to the US are purchasing health insurance. Read on to find all about health insurance for international students in the US.

Health Insurance Requirements in the US Based on Student Visa Category

In the US, international students will have specific health insurance requirements depending on the student visa they are on. Here are the same for those on J-1, J-2, F-1 and M-1 visas, as determined by the U.S. State Department:

  • J-1 visa: Those on J-1 visa, including research scholars, exchange visitors and professors must have health insurance for the full length of their program.

  • J-2 visa: This is a non-immigrant visa for spouses or dependents of J-1 exchange visitors or those who join J-1 holders. They must also be covered by health insurance for the full length of the program. 

  • F-1 visa: International students on an F-1 visa do not have to have medical insurance or meet government-mandated standards. However, many schools have their own health insurance requirements for F-1 visa holders. 

  • M-1 visa: Students on an M-1 visa (for those enrolled in technical and vocational programs) are also not required to have health insurance by the US government. 

Also Read: Guide to Student Travel Insurance for Study Abroad Aspirants

US Health Insurance for International Students on OPT

OPT or Optional Practical Training authorises F-1 students to apply their knowledge to practical work experience for up to 12 months or more before and/or after they complete their degree program. 

Students on post-completion OPT are typically not eligible for the school’s health insurance plan. However, if you had an Optional Health Insurance Plan during school, you will be able to continue with the same plan. 

Further, the recruiter may or may not be responsible for providing you with any health insurance plans. In case the company does not have group health insurance, you will have to opt for insurance for the entire period on your own. 

US Health Insurance for International Students on H-1B Visa

All H-1B visa holders should obtain health insurance while living and working in the US. The type of health insurance will depend on residence status:

  • Short-term H-1B Health Insurance: This is for those who have recently received their H1-B visa and are considered a “visitor” or “temporary resident” in the US. One will have to purchase short-term health insurance from a private company as they would not qualify for Affordable Care Act – ObamaCare) compliant health insurance coverage.

  • Long-term (domestic) H-1B Insurance: After you have completed six to 10 months in the US with an H-1B visa, you will be able to apply for ACA-compliant H1-B health insurance, which offers long term coverage of medical costs. 

Need Help With Finding the Right Health Insurance Plan?

Benefits of International Student Health Insurance in the US

Let us now find out how health insurance protects you in the US:

  • Covers Essential Health Benefits: Under the Affordable Care Act, health care has become more standardised with relation to insurance plan benefits. Earlier, some plans covered prescriptions while others did not. However, now, health insurance plans in the US cover a number of “essential health benefits” such as emergency services, laboratory tests, maternity and newborn care, hospitalisation, mental health and substance-abuse treatment, prescriptions drugs and more. 

  • Provides Protection From High Medical Costs: Health insurance in the US provides financial protection in case you meet an accident or have a serious illness. International students without health insurance will have to pay out of their pockets, which often leads to deep debt. To give you an estimate, let us state some figures as mentioned by U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services/healthcare.gov:

    • A 3-day hospital stay, on average, may cost you close to $30,000.

    • Cancer care may cost hundreds of thousands of US dollars.

    • As mentioned above, even as little as fixing a broken leg may cost up to $7,500.

According to estimates, a two-mile ambulance ride in the US may cost up to $2,700. However, with health insurance, no matter what the coverage, you will be treated in an emergency situation.

  • Free Preventive Care: Most health insurance plans in the US cover different preventive services such as vaccine shots and screening tests. For adults, it usually includes aspirin use, alcohol misuse screening and counselling, cholesterol screening, depression screening, diabetes (type 2) screening, diet counselling, Hepatitis B screening and more. Preventive care may be different for adults, women and children.

  • Cheaper In Case of In-Network Healthcare: In the US, you can either opt for in-network or out-network health care providers. In-network refers to hospitals, doctors, specialists, pharmacies and dentists, whereas out-of-network includes providers who do not have an agreement with your insurance company. Usually, it is much cheaper when you obtain health care services from an in-network professional or facility. You pay less for the same services even before you meet your deductible and eventually save hundreds of dollars.

  • Lack of Insurance May Impact Studies: In many cases, it has been seen that high medical bills have led to international students dropping out of school or stressing out on covering tuition costs. It is because of this that many US schools require students including those from outside the country to buy a health insurance plan. 

Also Read: Application Deadlines 2021-2022 for Popular US Universities

What Does International Student Health Insurance in the US Cover?

Although health insurance plans vary depending on the provider, all plans offered in the Health Insurance Marketplace, which comply with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, cover the following facilities:

  • Outpatient care without admission to a hospital

  • Hospitalisation including surgery and overnight stays

  • Emergency services

  • Mental health and substance use disorder services

  • Pregnancy, maternity and newborn care

  • Laboratory services

  • Prescription drugs

  • Preventive and wellness services

  • Rehabilitative and habilitative services and devices

  • Pediatric services, including oral and vision care

Additional benefits will include birth control, breastfeeding, dental, vision coverages and medical management programs such as weight management, diabetes and back pain.

How to Get International Student Health Insurance in the USA?

Here are the steps you can follow to get health insurance in the US:

  • Find Out If Your University Has its Own Health Insurance Plan: International students may find that many US schools require a mandatory school-sponsored group insurance plan. This is provided before you arrive in the US and in many cases, students are asked to be on the university’s plan or show them proof if you already have one. Some automatically enroll international applicants in their health insurance plan for students. 

  • Look for Companies Offering Health Insurance to International Students: In case your university does not have its own health insurance plan, you can check for companies that do and compare their plans. 

  • Make a List of Health Benefits You Need: Do not choose a plan without figuring out what benefits you actually need. The best way to do this is by going through your medical history along with adding the basic ones, as mentioned above. 

  • Pick the Most Suitable Plan for You: Before you choose, consider looking at factors such as adequate policy maximum, deductible, out-of-pocket expenses, Annual out-of-pocket maximum, coinsurance and copayment. 

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