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Understanding healthcare and health insurance in the U.S.

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The U.S. healthcare system is certainly one of the most controversial in the world, and if you’re heading to the States to study, you may have some concerns about how to access treatment while you’re over there. Unlike in the UK and many other countries, free healthcare is not publically available in the U.S. – only a fifth of the hospitals in the U.S. 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.

Controversial care

Healthcare in America is often considered controversial, not just because it isn’t 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 costs associated with the system tend to be high. The Affordable Care Act (also known as ‘Obamacare’) was designed to help the most disadvantaged and vulnerable in U.S. society to access health insurance. At the time Obamacare arrived in the country, approximately 20 percent of the population was without health insurance, a statistic that’s far too high given the consequences of not having insurance if you get sick in the U.S.

Understanding your options

There are numerous different types of health insurance in the U.S. – 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 States who choose not to purchase health insurance.

International students who are studying in the U.S. must possess adequate health insurance for the duration of a stay in the country due to there being no free public healthcare system available – this is both a state and a federal requirement and there are no States in which this doesn’t apply. Although healthcare reform may change this in the near future, for now it is preferable for anyone travelling to America to make that they have sufficient healthcare insurance for any accidents or illnesses that may affect them in their time abroad.

Money on our minds

The costs of doctors and hospitals in the U.S. – 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, you’ll have to cover these costs from your own pocket. Getting a good insurance policy means you’ll 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 access some of the best healthcare facilities in the country if you have a solid health insurance plan, which is really important if you fall ill while living so far away from home.

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 you’re planning to study with. However, you may be ineligible for this kind of coverage so it’s important for you to contact the school or college before you arrive to see whether you can or can not claim coverage. 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 you want for yourself – and for your family if they’re travelling with you – and do plenty of research before selecting a policy.

Although the U.S. might appear to have a horribly complicated and inaccessible healthcare system, you can get the hang of it by asking lots of questions and doing some thorough research. It doesn’t need to stop you having a fantastic study experience!

Image via Flickr.

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