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Understanding health care and health insurance in the US

The US health care system is one of the most confusing - and controversial - in the world. Source: rawpixel/Unsplash

The health care system in the US is certainly one of the world’s most contentious. If you’re heading to America for study, you may have some concerns about how to access treatment you might need in your time overseas.

Unlike other countries like the UK, free health care is not publicly available in the US, with only 956 out of 5,534 registered hospitals being funded by local or state governments. Instead, the majority of America’s health services are run by private businesses and health care providers, all of which are available at an often hefty cost to the patient.

Controversial care

Health care in America is deemed a conroversial topic, generally marked as a system that’s both costly and inefficient. Earlier this year, the Commonwealth Fund ranked the country last in a study of 11 global health care systems.

The report highlighted the sorry state of American health services, stating that “the US fails to achieve better health outcomes than the other countries, and as shown in the earlier editions, the US is last or near last on dimensions of access, efficiency, and equity.”

The Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as ‘Obamacare’, was introduced in March 2010, designed to help the nation’s most disadvantaged and vulnerable find decent health insurance. At the time of Obamacare’s arrival, around 20 percent of the population was without health insurance – a high statistic when you consider the bank-busting consequences of becoming sick.

But earlier this year, Forbes reported that while health care was seen as the most important issue in the 2018 congressional elections, a mere 36 percent of the public were aware that the Affordable Care Act’s Individual Mandate had been repealed by Trump’s Republican cabinet.

Understanding your options

There are different types of health insurance plans available in America – social insurance and social welfare, for example, but most people tend to go for private insurance. Many are simply not eligible for affordable insurance here and, as the cost of health insurance rises year by year, an increasing number of US citizens and visitors make the risky choice not to purchase any at all.

Only 36 percent of Americans were aware that the Affordable Care Act’s Individual Mandate had been repealed by Trump in 2018. Source: Shutterstock

But international students studying in the US must have adequate health insurance for the duration of their stay. This is both a state and federal requirement and there are no states in which this doesn’t apply. Although health care reform could change this in the future, for now, anyone leaving to study in America must ensure they have sufficient cover in place.

Money on our minds

The cost 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 if you don’t have a plan that covers the cost.

A good insurance policy will provide coverage for most situations and for a large proportion of the cost (although there may be some exceptions and also a ‘deductible’ to contribute towards the cost of each treatment). You can access some of the best health care facilities in the country if you have a solid insurance plan in place – something you’ll definitely appreciate should you ever need help.

It’s okay to be picky

In terms of the best policy you should look for as an international student, there may be a health insurance policy available with your prospective university. But you may be ineligible for this kind of coverage, so it’s crucial you make contact with the school or college to confirm whether you are or not.

If you find you’re not eligible, take a look at private policies such as those from Gateway, Cultural Insurance Services International, Compass Student Insurance, ISO Student Health Insurance, United Healthcare Global 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 US may appear to have a convoluted and inaccessible health care system, you can navigate it simply by asking the right questions and doing some research. It doesn’t need to stop you having a fantastic study experience!

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