Thanks to Obamacare, international students enrolled in American colleges are at risk of losing their student health insurance, or being hit with premium increases that they, or more likely their parents, never anticipated.
In the US, most colleges require foreign students to have health insurance: either in-house plans administered by some of the major insurers, like Aetna or United Healthcare, or other plans whose benefits are comparable to, or better than, those offered by their schools of choice. In addition, the U.S. State Department will only issue student visas (F1 for full-time students at academic institutions or J1 for exchange students and cultural programs) to those whose insurance meets their schools’ requirements.
For the most part, these plans have traditionally offered only limited benefits designed for young, healthy people. According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, approximately 60 per cent of schools offered coverage of up to about $50,000, which they felt was adequate.
But Obamacare (which is formally, and somewhat ironically, titled the Affordable Care Act) changes all of that because it requires all student health plans (including those covering international students in the US) to meet the same expanded coverage limits that will apply to all Americans: no benefit limits, coverage of pre-existing conditions and pregnancy, and preventive care—in effect, first- to last-dollar coverage. As the phased ACA rollout has shown, premiums for this extensive coverage are beyond the ability of many Americans to pay.
Consequently, many colleges are dropping their student health plans, and those that choose to continue are tripling or even quadrupling their health insurance fees. At many colleges that used to charge $40 to $50 per semester, the health insurance fees have soared to well over $2,000 for a full school year.
Such increased costs may well induce Canadian students to reconsider enrolling at a school close to home, or it may encourage them to explore student or expatriate policies developed in Canada for application in the US. Given that more than 27,500 Canadian students were enrolled in American colleges in 2010–2011, and that more and more students are looking beyond their own borders for an education, supplemental health insurers (among them travel insurers) can be expected to carve out new products for this growing market. Some already have.
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