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Is your kid off to college? READ THIS FIRST!

"Your child is going to college—congratulations!  You may feel like there are a thousand things to do before they go, but one thing you may not have thought of is health insurance.  If your student is attending college outside the Madison area, read on!"

- Dr. Margaret Wilcots, AP Pediatrician

Thanks to the ACA, young adults can be covered under their parent’s insurance until they’re 26, but many insurance policies (especially HMOs and PPOs, like many of those in Dane County) will not cover anything but emergency care if there are no “covered providers” near the college. If there is any follow up needed from that visit, it has to be with an in-network doctor, clinic or hospital, and that probably means they’ll have to travel back to Madison.  For example, if your child has a broken ankle, they’ll cover the x-rays and the cast in the ER, but any surgery, follow up, and physical therapy has to be in Madison. A concussion sustained at college can be evaluated at the ER, but any sports medicine or neurology follow up has to be here. Missed classes add up quickly in college, and a serious injury with lots of follow up can lead to needing to withdraw for the semester, with the financial (and educational) loss that entails.

So, first things first: once your child has chosen their school, call the customer service number on your insurance card and ask what they cover where the college is located. If they don’t cover much, think about your particular child: does he have chronic medical issues that need to be seen at more than one scheduled visit per year? (Examples might include type 1 diabetes, or allergies/asthma requiring allergy shots.) Is she likely to be playing sports, including intramurals or club sports, thus making her more likely to have injuries? Would you like them to be able to go to Student Health or a local clinic when they’re sick?

Most universities have a student insurance plan which is optional; some schools are now requiring that you take their plan unless you can prove that you have insurance that works in the area, but most leave it up to you. It can be tempting to skip it; college is already so expensive! But we recommend you think long and hard about whether you might need it, or whether the peace of mind of having it is worth the cost.

Finally, a word about prescriptions: we can refill prescriptions (if appropriate) which are based on the care we provided to your college student, but we cannot send new prescriptions for new problems. For example, we can refill an asthma inhaler if your child left theirs at home, but we can’t send in an antibiotic for a student who thinks they might have an ear infection. This latter case would be another example of a reason to have health insurance which covers your student at school.

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