If you’re like many other international students who come to the US to study, you’ll be pursuing your degree for a few years. In turn, this also means you will need a health insurance plan that you can keep during that time. While it might initially seem like a good idea to purchase a health insurance plan for a few months or maybe just one year to “test it out,” this can cause a few problems down the line- especially if you have a condition that develops while on your plan- or if you come to the United States with a pre-existing condition.
Before we go into why this could cause a few problems, first, it’s key to understand what a pre-existing condition is. A pre-existing condition is defined differently by each insurance company, and the look back period (a specific time period prior to having the insurance plan) can vary depending on the plan. Be sure to check your insurance plan, but generally the definition may include some form of the following:
“Any injury or illness which, within the 365 days prior to the effective date of coverage, manifested itself, exhibited symptoms, or required medical treatment or medication, or for which a physician was consulted.”
Many short term plans will not cover pre-existing conditions, and if they do, they might have a waiting period (period in which you must be on the plan before you’re able to have coverage for a specific condition) or look back period (like the example above). So although taking the risk of having your health insurance plan terminate after the first year might not seem like a big deal, it can be if you have a medical condition that you need continuing treatment for.
Pre-Existing Condition Example
To explain this, here is a common scenario: Let’s say you purchase a plan that has a six-month waiting period before pre-existing conditions are covered, and that the plan cannot be renewed beyond one year. You, however, decide to purchase the plan for one year, as you can still purchase a new plan after one year if you need further coverage.
Here are two potential outcomes that could cause you to worry:
You Develop A Condition While on your Plan:
In the hustle and bustle of studying in a new country, the year quickly goes by and your insurance plan ends. This wouldn’t be a problem had you not used the plan, but last week you discovered you have asthma- and now you need to go to the doctor a multiple times over the next few months. Since your plan has ended you will need to buy a new insurance, and your asthma will now be considered a pre-existing condition and not covered within the first six months. This means that your doctor appointments, medication, and any labs for your asthma will not be covered, and you will need to pay for them out of pocket. On the contrary, if you had purchased a plan that was renewable, you could have simply renewed your plan for an additional year and your asthma condition would continue to be covered.
Since accidents do happen, it’s important to ensure that the plan you purchase is able to be extended and renewed for the entire time you will be in the US so you don’t risk running into this situation.
You Need Coverage for a Condition you had Prior to the Plan Starting:
As mentioned previously, if you have a medical condition before your plan begins it will be considered a pre-existing condition. This means that your plan must include coverage for pre-existing conditions (and the condition you need treatment for) in order for that condition to be covered. For example, if you come to the US with epilepsy and purchase a plan with a six month waiting period for pre-existing conditions, it will be a six month wait before that condition will be covered. After that six month period you would then be able to have coverage for your pre-existing condition. However, if your plan does not allow you to renew, you would then need to buy a new plan and go through the waiting period again.
If you would like an international student health insurance plan that can be renewed for up to four years check out the Student Secure plan.
Additionally, keep in mind that if you’ve had an alternative plan in the past without a condition arising then buying a new plan is perfectly fine and you won’t have to worry about pre-existing condition coverage at all!
If you need coverage for a pre-existing condition right away you might want to consider looking into whether you’re eligible for an ACA-compliant plan. However, keep in mind that ACA compliant plans will not provide you with certain benefits that international students and scholars need like emergency medical evacuation and repatriation of remains.