Best Health Insurance Companies for College Students

How to choose the best insurance if you are a college student

Our editors independently research, test, and recommend the best products; you can learn more about our review process here. We may receive commissions on purchases made from our chosen links.

If you’re a college student, health insurance might not seem like a priority. Maybe you’re accustomed to having coverage through your parents’ policy or you don’t think you’ll need it because you’re in good health. But it’s important to remember that healthcare is expensive in the United States and an accident or injury could leave you deeply in debt. 

For instance, if you’re uninsured, the average cost of just one doctor’s appointment is around $160. An ER visit can cost upwards of $1,389, and a three-day hospital stay an astonishing $30,000.

To help you find the most suitable health insurance plan for your needs, we analyzed various health options and companies. We looked at factors including cost, coverage options, provider network, and industry rankings. Here are our top choices for the best health insurance for college students.

Best Health Insurance Companies for College Students

Best Health Insurance Companies for College Students
Best Health Insurance Companies for College Students

Best Overall : Blue Cross Blue Shield


Blue Cross Blue Shield Association

 Blue Cross Blue Shield Association

Why We Chose It: For students looking for expansive countrywide and international coverage, range of coverage options, and low-cost premiums, Blue Cross Blue Shield was an easy pick for our best overall category.

What We Like
  • Teams with various states and schools to offer plans for students

  • Expansive network providers

  • Available in all 50 states and internationally

  • Range of extra benefits

  • Exclusive discounts

  • Comprehensive coverage options

What We Don't Like
  • Some plans don’t include prescription drug coverage

  • Finding information on the many BCBS websites can be difficult

More than 110 million people countrywide rely on The Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA) for healthcare coverage. Thanks to its student-specific plans, low-cost insurance options, range of benefits, and reward system, BCBSA was an obvious choice for our best overall pick.

The BCBSA comprises 35 independent entities, most of which have an AM Best financial strength rating of A (Excellent). You’ll be directed to your local provider when you input your ZIP code to the BCBSA website.

Depending on your location, you can choose from tiers of coverage from catastrophic through to fully comprehensive platinum. You can also customize plans with dental and vision insurance.

Catastrophic coverage has lower monthly premiums, but higher deductibles and out-of-pocket maximum. The coverage doesn’t max out. People of any age can join the bronze through platinum plans, but you must be under 30 to enroll in a catastrophic policy. 

For these Marketplace plans, you’ll need to wait for an enrollment period to join and coverage will begin on January 1st. Short-term plans are available to fill any gaps in coverage. 

People cannot be excluded for health conditions, but there are exclusions including cosmetic and experimental procedures, and long-term care.

Because BCBSA teams with colleges nationwide, students may find cheaper coverage options through their school. Students with low-incomes may also qualify for government subsidies to lower their insurance costs. 

Students can enjoy additional benefits from BCBSA, including dental, pet insurance, fitness products, and meal subscription discounts.

Best For Budget : Kaiser Permanente


Kaiser Permanente

 Kaiser Permanente

Why We Chose It: Kaiser Permanente is our overall budget choice because of its excellent ratings and industry strength coupled with economic coverage against worse case scenarios for low-income students.

What We Like
  • Low-cost premiums

  • No-cost preventative care

  • Unparalleled customer service ratings

  • Online quotations and applications

  • Coordinated insurance and health care

  • Virtual care available

What We Don't Like
  • The policyholder must use Kaiser facilities

  • Coverage limited to eight states and the District of Columbia

Health industry leader Kaiser Permanente provides insurance solutions for college students with financial restrictions through its catastrophic plans. Kaiser took our top budget place with low monthly premiums and a range of no-fee covered services such as preventative care.

Non-profit Kaiser Permanente is a managed care organization with a network of 39 hospitals and 727 medical offices. Once you join a Kaiser plan, you can in some cases visit in-network specialists without a referral.

Students can get quotes online for catastrophic, bronze, silver, gold, and platinum policies. These plans have no exclusion for health conditions and are available to all ages, as they are ACA compliant. Some students may even qualify for government subsidies based on household income. These only apply to silver tier plans and above. With a discounted premium, the more comprehensive coverage could work out cheaper. 

The catastrophic plan has a deductible of $8,550 in 2021. You must be aged 30 or under to enroll in this plan. With an ACA plan, the coverage doesn't max out. If you sign up during open enrollment, coverage will begin January 1st.

Prescription drug coverage is included in ACA plans and you can add vision and dental coverage backed by third parties. Exclusions include routine vision and dental care, elective procedures, and long-term custodial care. 

For busy students, preventative care is essential and is something that Kaiser prioritizes. They provide tools and programs, including routine exams, cancer screenings, and cholesterol screenings. Kaiser even includes chiropractic and acupuncture treatment.

Kaiser is not rated by AM Best, but consistently ranks highly for customer satisfaction with J.D. Power and Associates. You'll need to be a resident of California, Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Oregon, Virginia, Washington, or the District of Columbia, to take advantage of Kaiser’s offerings.

Best For Short-Term Health Insurance : Pivot


Pivot Health

 Pivot Health

Why We Chose It: Pivot is our best short-term health insurance pick for college students as the policies are flexible, don’t tie you to a network, and students can fit healthcare around their schedule thanks to Pivot’s telemedicine services. Plus, discount programs provide opportunities to save money.

What We Like
  • Not tied to a network of providers

  • 24/7 telemedicine

  • Medication and vision care discounts

What We Don't Like
  • Not available in every state

  • Canceling policies may be difficult

Students often have hectic and varied schedules. Finding time to visit the doctor isn’t a problem with Pivot, as you can use their around-the-clock telehealth service or book an appointment with any convenient doctor. Their policies are flexible and economical, making Pivot our preferred short-term health insurance pick for students.

Deductibles start at $1,000. When you see a doctor or receive other covered health care services, there’s a coinsurance of 20% or 30%. Pivot caps the most you’ll pay out-of-pocket with coinsurance at between $3,000 and $10,000 before the plan coverage limit is met.

Coverage maxes out at $1 million. Policy durations and renewability vary by state. Six months is a common policy term. You can customize your plan with things such as dental and vision coverage.

A significant advantage of short-term insurance policies is the short waiting time. With Pivot, coverage can begin within 5 days, or 30 days for cancer coverage. There are some disadvantages though, including exclusions for pre-existing conditions, sexually transmitted infections, maternity care, and more.

Pivot Health was founded in 2016. It’s since partnered with the AM Best A+ rated Companion Life Insurance Company to underwrite their short-term insurance plans. These plans are often more affordable than traditional health insurance coverage but are not covered by ACA regulations. 

Residents of Washington D.C. and 30 states aged under 65 can buy a Pivot policy. Using the online quotation system, you can tailor the features of their policies.

Best For International Students : Tokio Marine HCC Medical Insurance Services


Tokio Marine HCC Medical Insurance Services

 Tokio Marine HCC Medical Insurance Services

Why We Chose It: Tokio Marine HCC Medical Insurance Services took our top spot for international student insurance thanks to their multiple low-cost plan options with high maximum limits and low deductibles.

What We Like
  • Policies meet the J-1 visa requirements

  • Get a quote and buy online

  • Emergency dental care included up to $250 per tooth and $500 maximum

  • Includes prescription drug coverage

  • Coverage for leisure activities and sports

  • Nationwide coverage

What We Don't Like
  • Variable waiting period or no coverage for pre-existing conditions

Adequate health insurance is crucial to students from other countries who are studying in the United States. Students may find it’s a requirement of their visa or the school, but even if it isn’t, it’s a wise precaution against the prohibitive bills resulting from an accident or illness. 

Tokio Marine provides low-cost, high-benefit plans for visiting students across the United States, which is why they are our best option for international students. With Tokio Marine, you can add an accidental deal and crisis response rider to your coverage, and personal liability coverage is included with certain policies. 

Students aged up to 65 can choose from four tiers of Student Secure coverage. Smart Cover is the most basic plan with $200,000 coverage. Comprehensive Elite policies provide coverage that maxes out at $5 million. Policies of any length are available providing the policyholder is a full-time student, and policy coverage begins on your chosen start date.

However, this doesn’t apply to pre-existing conditions. The Smart policy doesn’t cover any pre-existing conditions, and with the Budget Policy there’s a 12-month waiting period. However, the Select and Elite options cover pre-existing conditions after the policy has been in place for six months. There’s also a long list of exclusions including shots, maternity care, eye surgery, chiropractic treatments, and injuries that occur while someone is under the influence of illicit drugs. 

Based in Houston, the Tokio Marine HCC offers health and life insurance in over 130 countries. They have an A+ (Superior) financial rating from A.M. Best.

Final Verdict

Health insurance for college students helps cover the cost of expensive doctor's appointments, medical treatments, prescription drugs, and more. Even if you feel you don’t need it, your college may require that students enroll in a health insurance policy.

Overall, our top pick for students is Blue Cross Blue Shield. If you’re looking for countrywide coverage, a range of options, and economical premiums, it’s an ideal choice. The BCBSA also partners with colleges to provide student-specific plans at potentially even lower prices. 

Our budget choice, Kaiser Permanente, offers economic coverage against worst-case scenarios, and the company has a strong reputation and long history of providing high-rated plans.

If you’re looking for short-term insurance, then our top pick Pivot may fit the bill. Its policies are flexible and even a demanding lecture schedule won’t be a barrier to health care thanks to Pivot’s telemedicine services. They also offer discount programs to save money.

For international students, health insurance is crucial, both for visa requirements and to provide a financial safety net. Tokio Marine HCC Medical Insurance Services is our top choice for international student insurance because they offer multiple, low-cost plan options that meet J1 visa requirements.

Compare Providers

Best Health Insurance For College Students
Insurance Provider Why We Picked It
Blue Cross Blue Shield Best Overall
Kaiser Permanente Best for Budget
Pivot Best for Short-Term
Tokio Marine HCC Medical Insurance Services Best for International Students

FAQs

How Is Health Insurance for College Students Different From Traditional Health Insurance?

Health insurance for students may differ from standard health insurance depending on the options chosen.

Parents with Affordable Care Act (ACA) health insurance can add their children to the plan if they are under 26. This applies even if they are married or leave home to start college. There are several advantages to continuing with parental insurance coverage, including uninterrupted health care as you can continue seeing your regular doctor. Compared to enrolling in an individual plan, typically, you’ll have more extensive coverage for a lower cost.

There are other options if you’re over 26 or cannot otherwise join a parental insurance policy. Most colleges offer insurance plans through the government ACA Marketplace, and low-income students may qualify for financial subsidies. You can opt for a catastrophic coverage policy that is more affordable. 

Students may find help through Medicaid, the federal health insurance program for people with low-incomes. You can find information from your state’s Medicaid agency. 

Finally, some private insurance companies offer plans outside of the ACA Marketplace. They may be an alternative for bare-bones coverage if you have trouble finding more comprehensive cover elsewhere. 

Can You Be Denied Coverage for Health Reasons?

You cannot be denied coverage for health reasons if the insurance plan is part of ACA. With ACA, the policies cannot exclude pre-existing conditions. 

However, short-term or other policies that don’t fall under ACA can deny someone coverage for a range of health issues or charge them higher prices. These may include obesity, pregnancy, an HIV diagnosis, diabetes, and cardiovascular problems. Each carrier can define the health conditions that disqualify someone.

Are Any Services Excluded From Coverage?

The excluded services vary from policy to policy and depend on the ACA mandates. By law, ACA plans must cover the following 10 essential benefits:

  • Emergency services
  • Hospitalization
  • Laboratory testing services
  • Mental health services
  • Outpatient care
  • Pediatric services 
  • Pregnancy, maternity, and newborn baby care
  • Prescription drugs
  • Preventative and wellness services
  • Rehabilitative services

There is a degree of ambiguity, however. Take prescription drugs as an example. Health plans must cover the category but they can exclude some medications.

Individual state coverage for each category may also vary. Each state has a benchmark plan that outlines their Essential Health Benefits minimum obligation within each category. 

Policies may exclude any services outside the Essential Health Benefits. ACA plans often do not cover the following:

  • Long-term care
  • Cosmetic surgery
  • Weight loss surgery
  • Acupuncture
  • Routine foot care that is not medically necessary
  • Adult dental services
  • Private nursing care

Insurance that isn’t part of ACA can exclude people from coverage based on pre-existing health conditions. These policies may also exclude any associated health care services for these conditions.

What Are the Costs Associated With Health Insurance For College Students?

The costs vary by plan and whether the student is entitled to subsidies. Most policies have a monthly premium, deductible, and copays or coinsurance. 

During our research, we found monthly premiums for ACA coverage average $456 per month. However, there are government subsidies available for some low-income students that could significantly reduce this expense.

When you visit a health service provider for covered services, you’ll share the cost with the insurance company. You’ll pay a copay, which is a set amount, such as $15 for a doctor’s visit, or coinsurance, which is a percentage of the total.

There’s also a deductible to meet. This is the amount you must pay out-of-pocket before the insurance provider begins to pay. Some policies, especially those with higher monthly premiums, may not have a deductible. Basic plans may have a deductible of around $8,000 or more before the policy kicks-in.

Can You Use Your Health Insurance Immediately? 

You’ll need to wait for an enrollment period to join an ACA plan, either individually or through parental coverage. Open Enrollment begins on November 1 and extends through December or January, depending on the state. If you lose healthcare coverage, you may qualify for a Special Enrollment Period, meaning you can join an ACA plan at that time. 

You can’t use coverage immediately. Typically, you’ll wait until January 1st for coverage to begin.

You may be able to use non-ACA health policies almost immediately. Some companies offer next-day coverage once they accept your application. 

Methodology

We evaluated 16 top-rated companies that offer health insurance for college students and assessed a range of factors before selecting our top choices for the four categories.

College students often have financial constraints, so monthly premium costs and overall pricing were essential factors in our analysis. 

We also looked at the ease of finding a quotation and buying a policy, range of policy options, network size, coverage, options, and added benefits. 

To assess financial stability and customer satisfaction, we reviewed AM Best, BBB, JD Power ratings, and data from the National Committee for Quality Assurance wherever possible.

Was this page helpful?
7 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Saloner B, Polsky D, Kenney GM, Hempstead K, Rhodes KV. Most uninsured adults could schedule primary care appointments before the ACA, but average price was $160Health Aff (Millwood). 2015;34(5):773-780. doi:10.1377/hlthaff.2014.1258

  2. Health Care Cost Institute. 10 years of emergency room spending for the commercially insured. 2019.

  3. Healthcare.gov. Protection from high medical costs.

  4. AM Best. AM Best Affirms Credit Ratings of Anthem, Inc. and Its Subsidiaries. Updated December 3, 2020.

  5. AM Best. Companion Life Insurance Company. Updated Dec. 9, 2021.

  6. AM Best. AM Best affirms credit ratings of Tokio Marine Pacific Insurance Limited. Updated October 9, 2020.

  7. Porretta A. How much does individual health insurance cost? . eHealth. https://www.ehealthinsurance.com/resources/individual-and-family/how-much-does-individual-health-insurance-cost. Published November 24, 2020.