Health Insurance and the Health Care System in the US
The healthcare system in the US is certainly one of the most controversial in the world and if you’re heading over to America to study then you might have some concerns about how to access treatment if you need it while you’re over there. Unlike many countries, such as the UK, free healthcare is not generally publically available in America – only a fifth of the hospitals in the US are owned by government organisations. Instead, most of the healthcare provision comes from private businesses and healthcare providers and is available at a cost to the patient.
Healthcare in America is controversial, not just because it is not provided for free in most cases, but also because the healthcare delivery system is not particularly efficient. In fact, America was ranked 46th out of 48 countries in terms of healthcare efficiencies in a Bloomberg study and the costs of the system tend to be high. The Affordable Care Act (also known as ‘Obamacare’) is introduced this year and designed to try and help the most disadvantaged and vulnerable in US society to access health insurance. At the time Obamacare arrived in the country about 20% of the population was without health insurance, a statistic that is far too high given the consequences of not having insurance if you become sick in the US.
Understanding your options
There are numerous different types of health insurance in America – social insurance and social welfare, for example, but most people tend to have private insurance. Many are simply not eligible for affordable insurance under the Affordable Care Act and, as the costs of health insurance are rising by the year, the result is that there’s an increasing number of people in the US who choose not to purchase healthcare insurance.
International students who are studying in the US must have adequate healthcare insurance for the duration of a stay in the country as a result of there being no public system of free healthcare available. This is both a state and federal requirement and there are no states where this won’t apply. Although healthcare reform may begin to change this in the near future, for now it is preferable for anyone travelling to America to study to make that they have sufficient healthcare insurance for any accidents or illnesses that may affect you while you’re there.
Money on our minds
The costs of doctors and hospitals in America – particularly if you’re taken to the emergency room – can spiral into tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars and if you don’t have insurance then you will have to cover these costs from your own pocket. Getting a good insurance policy means that you will have coverage for most situations and for the large proportion of the cost (although there may be some exceptions and also a ‘deductible’ to pay towards the cost of each treatment). You can also access some of the best healthcare facilities in the country if you have a solid health insurance plan, which is important if you become ill while far away from home and need help.
It's okay to be picky
In terms of the kind of policy you should look for as an international student there may be a health insurance policy available with the institution that you’re planning to study with. However, you may be ineligible for this kind of coverage so it’s important that you make contact with the school or college before you go to see whether you’re able to get coverage or not. If you’re not eligible then take a look at private policies, such as those from Gateway USA, Cultural Insurance Services International, Compass Benefits Group, ISO Student Health Insurance, CMI and International SOS. Think about the kind of coverage that you want for yourself – and for your family if they are travelling with you – and do plenty of research before choosing a policy.
Although the US might appear to have a horribly complicated and inaccessible healthcare system, you can get the hang of it by asking questions and doing some research. It doesn’t need to stop you having a fantastic study experience!