Health Care in the USA
International students are responsible for the expenses they incur while in the United States. As such, U.S. law requires universities to verify that international students on J-1 visas (and their J-2 dependents) have health insurance before allowing them to enroll. The federal government does not require students on F-1 visas to have health insurance, but many schools require it.
The most important thing you can do is learn more; study the details of your insurance plan, and get familiar with its rules and regulations. Also, try to maintain a healthy lifestyle to minimize your chances of illness or injury that may require medical treatment while you are studying in the United States.
Unlike many other first-world countries, the United States does not provide socialized health care. Although the American healthcare system is considered one of the best in the world, it also happens to be one of the most expensive. Healthcare costs from major accident or illness can add up to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Another hurdle is the complexity of the US healthcare system makes it difficult to understand, even for Americans. Although quality healthcare is widely available from a variety of sources, it is very important to know where to go for specific kinds of care in order to control costs. For college-bound international students, healthcare is (thankfully) more simplified as most colleges and universities offer health insurance options and have on-campus clinics that serve the needs of vast majority of the student population.
On Campus Health Care
- Besides emergencies, the on-campus clinic is the first place you will go for everything from basic first-aid and treatment of minor ailments. If required, the clinic will then refer you to specialists for other needs such as x-rays, laboratory tests, prescription drugs and others. The cost of on-campus medical services is normally not very expensive, and sometimes completely covered by the health insurance provided by your college.
During your first week on campus, be sure to take a note of where the clinic is on campus and what kinds of services your college/university offers. You may also be required to take a copy of your medical records (including immunization and vaccination records and prescriptions) to the school’s health care center or infirmary.
Off Campus for Health Care
- If you prefer to visit a medical practitioner off-campus, you have several choices (though the cost is generally higher). Private doctors treat non-emergency patients usually only by appointment during regular office hours that is typically between 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
In case of serious emergency, go to the nearest hospital emergency room — by ambulance if necessary. The emergency hotline is 911 all over the US. Hospital emergency rooms are designed to treat life-threatening ailments; this is typically the most expensive place to receive care.
If you need to use a medical facility, but are uncomfortable with your English skills, ask a friend to go with you. Proper communication is very important!
What You Need to Know About Health Insurance
Many colleges and universities have their own health insurance plans for their students. According to a recent independent study, larger U.S. schools tend to have better international student insurance programs than smaller schools. Participation in the plan is often mandatory, especially for non-U.S. students. If you are sponsored by an organization such as USAID or one of the Fulbright programs, that organization may have its own health insurance policy. If health insurance is not provided, the International Student Office at your new institution will be able to help you find a suitable plan that fits your needs, or visit International Student Insurance for more information.
A number of private companies offer insurance plans specifically designed for international students. The quality of these programs varies, so request advice from the on-campus International Student Office and other international students, especially students who have had experience with insurance claims.
Here are some basic insurance terms that will get you started in learning more about health care in the United States:
- The premium is the amount that you pay to purchase the insurance coverage.
- The deductible is the amount that the insured person must pay before the insurance company starts paying.
- Co-Insurance is the percentage that the insured person pays after the deductible is paid. For example, if co-insurance equals 20 percent, then the insured person pays 20 percent and the insurance company pays 80 percent.
- Expenses are the costs for services such as surgery, hospitalization, x-rays, prescription drugs, and/or laboratory tests; expenses are defined in the individual insurance contracts.