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In the Dorm or at Home, College Students Need Health Coverage During the COVID-19 Pandemic. Here’s How to Get It.



Whatever shape college will take this Fall, make sure your child is prepared with health insurance that meets their needs.


Heading off to college, like everything else these days, isn’t going to look the same as it did before the pandemic. Whether your child is allowed on campus or will take classes remotely, it’s more important than ever to make sure they’ve got the health coverage they need.

Children under age 26 can stay on their parent’s health insurance plan thanks to the Affordable Care Act. For many people, this is the easiest and most affordable way to keep college students covered.

But depending on where your child is going to school and the terms of your policy, there are several factors to consider in planning for your back-to-school health insurance needs.

1. Understand your current coverage

For students living away from home – facing new living environments, climates, and stresses – a reliable health plan is important to help them stay healthy.

The first place to start looking for insurance coverage is your existing plan. A student staying in New Jersey will be covered under your existing Horizon BCBSNJ plan.

However, if they are leaving the state, things can get a bit more complicated. Check if you have BlueCard® coverage, which provides access to Blue Cross Blue Shield’s national network of hospitals and doctors. To see if you’re covered under BlueCard®, check your insurance card for a suitcase icon in the lower right corner. If you have it, you have BlueCard® and your child can access doctors or facilities in the BlueCard network throughout the United States. For members with BlueCard®, care delivered from a BlueCard® in-network doctor or hospital works just like seeing an in-network doctor here in New Jersey when it comes to your out-of-pocket costs – the same deductibles, co-pays, and co-insurance applies.

If your plan doesn’t include BlueCard®, but you have out-of-network benefits, your child will be covered under the specific terms of your policy’s out-of-network coverage. Keep in mind out-of-network doctor’s visits and procedures are more expensive than if you stay in-network.

One thing you can count on: You and your family are always covered in a medical emergency even when outside of New Jersey.

Contact Horizon BCBSNJ if you have questions about the specifics of your plan’s coverage.

2. Explore the convenience of telehealth

Since the pandemic often made it challenging to see a doctor in-person, telehealth has provided access to care when and where patients needed it. Students who are staying on their parent’s plan may have access to Horizon CareOnline℠ and be able to talk with a doctor or behavioral health specialist via video (like Skype or FaceTime), chat or phone. Horizon BCBSNJ members can access telemedicine and nurse chat services 24/7 after downloading the Horizon Blue app.

Telemedicine can also be a cost-effective option, especially during the pandemic. For at least 90 days after the end of the public health emergency as declared by Governor Murphy, Horizon BCBSNJ is waiving out-of-pocket costs for members in a fully insured plan for covered telemedicine services provided by an in-network health care professional.

Review your plan to check your eligibility and the availability of these services in your school’s state.

3. Look at other coverage options

If your plan does not include BlueCard® or out-of-network coverage, contact the school. Most colleges offer Student Health Insurance Plans (SHIP). These could be a good option for basic care, especially if your existing family coverage is limited.

With these plans, premiums can often be paid through tuition or as part of financial aid. Most of the time, students will be required to see doctors on-campus or in the surrounding area, but some plans offer extended coverage even when a student is back home.

This option might enable you to remove your student from your plan and reduce your premium costs. Be sure to read the plan documents carefully to make sure you know what’s covered, when and where – especially since specifics may have changed during the pandemic.

Additional plans

Some students may be able to purchase health insurance through a marketplace run by the state or federal government. If students qualify, they may receive financial subsidies to pay for their plans. Purchasing these plans often requires filling out a lot of complicated paperwork and they are typically the costliest option.

For students who qualify, Medicaid is an option that provides free to extremely low-cost health care.

4. Get prepared

Even if it takes a while before students return to campus, they could use a little help finding the information and services they need once they get back. To start them off on the right track:

Find in-network providers near campus. If your child is staying on your Horizon plan, research in-network doctors and urgent care centers near campus. This will likely save you some headaches and expenses if your kid gets sick at school. Use Horizon BCBSNJ’s or BlueCard®’s Doctor & Hospital Finder to simplify the search.

  • Download the Horizon Blue app. Kids have grown up with smartphones and apps as a way of life. The Horizon Blue app can help them find in-network doctors, access their ID card to find out what their plan covers, or access our 24/7 Nurse Line or telehealth services.
  • Choose a pharmacy. If your child takes medications regularly or is just fighting a one-time illness, it’s important that they know where to go to avoid excessive out-of-pocket costs. Do a quick online search to identify nearby locations and check which ones accept your Horizon BCBSNJ coverage. A better option could be using a mail-order pharmacy, which ships medications directly to students, potentially saving time and money.
  • Find the school’s clinic. Most colleges have on-campus facilities that offer free or low-cost health services, such as immunizations or routine health screenings. This is usually the best place to start for their everyday health needs, especially if your child doesn’t have off-campus transportation or your family hasn’t met its annual deductible.

Health insurance may be the last thing on your college student’s mind right now, but as a parent, their health and safety are always your first priority. During these uncertain times – when they may be living away from home for the first time, not to mention in the middle of a global pandemic – share with them an important life lesson: how health care and insurance work and how to get the care they need, when they need it.