Finding Inclusive Health Care in College
For many young people, college is the first time that they’re entirely responsible for things like getting to class on time, feeding themselves breakfast, lunch and dinner, and balancing school and social responsibilities. All of these things become easier with age and practice. However, college may also be the first time that many are in charge of their health. And finding care, making sure it’s covered by insurance, and feeling respected by your provider aren’t easy no matter your age.
Here are a few tips just for college students to help make the process less stressful and ensure that everyone gets the type of care that they deserve.
Research Your Insurance Coverage
Questions to ask: Is your insurance through your parents or guardians? Is your insurance coming from your school? Do you need to sign up for insurance on your own through Medicaid or healthcare.gov?
If you’re under 26 there is a good chance you are covered under your parents’ health insurance throughout college, but that’s not always the case. If not, most universities offer a health insurance plan through their health center that is often paid for in tandem with your tuition. Pro tip: if you’re on your parents’ health insurance, make sure to take your health insurance card with you to college!
If you are not on your parents’ plan and can’t or don’t want to use university-sponsored health insurance, checking out healthcare.gov is the way-to-go.
There’s lots of lingo surrounding health care and it can be confusing even to a seasoned pro. The federal government keeps a glossary of terms with helpful definitions.
Two major terms you should know immediately are deductible and copay. Both of these words have to do with how much money you will owe your health care provider depending on who you see, what services you receive, and other factors.
Thanks for the ACA many preventative health care services should be entirely covered by your health insurance. For example, an annual well-woman visit covers cervical cancer screening, birth control counseling, and STI (including HIV) screening. However, treating STIs or other health conditions found during a well-woman visit may not be covered by insurance, which is why it’s important to know ahead of time what your plan covers and potential costs that you’ll be responsible for.
Questions to ask: Who receives copies of your bills?
It’s natural to want more privacy in all aspects of life as we age. However, when it comes to potentially sensitive information about our health, this can be crucial for feeling safe enough to get the care we need. If you’re on your parents’ insurance, but don’t want them to see what services you’ve gotten, talk to your providers or call the insurance company directly to find out your options.
Understand Your Health Care Options
Questions to ask: Are you limited by your insurance to certain clinics or hospital networks? Does your university have a health center or clinic on campus?
To figure out what your on-campus options are start by checking out your campus health center’s website. If your school does provide the services you think you’ll need, you may find it helpful to save the contact info for the campus health center and a campus mental health counselor so you can contact them easily if you need them.
Questions to ask: Where is the nearest non-university hospital or health care provider?
If your health center doesn’t offer a wide variety of services or you do not like the care you are receiving, find another provider nearby. Make sure to check with them first about whether they take your insurance though. It’s also just good practice to know where the nearest place to go in case of a medical emergency is too.
Assess Your Health Care Needs
Questions to ask: Are there any specialty providers you need to see regularly (e.g., a neurologist, therapist, OGBYNs, etc.)? What types of preventative health care do you anticipate needing? What are your sexual health needs?
Especially for those moving away from home to attend college, it’s important to know whether you’ll continue to see providers or if you need to build up a new care network after you settle in.
Don’t let taking care of your sexual and reproductive health slip off your to-do list. Your sexual health affects you physically, mentally, and socially, so it’s very important to keep it in mind regardless of your relationship status or sexual activity. And birth control is a critical part of repro health too.
Know Your Worth as a Patient
Questions to ask: What do you value in a provider relationship? What does an ideal visit to a health care provider look like for you?
Do you want to see the same provider every year and build up a relationship with them? Or are you ok just seeing whoever is available when you need care? It’s very important to some people that they see a provider of the same gender or sexual orientation as them, while for others that’s not important.
There is no one-size-fits all ideal relationship between patient and provider so it’s ok to have a preference one way or another or to not know what your preference is right now.
Questions to ask: Have you had a positive experience as a patient before? How about a negative experience?
Using past experiences as a guide for future health care is the best way to learn what deserve in a health care setting. Like most things in life, we all want to repeat positive experiences and avoid repeating negative ones. So, if you’ve ever had a run in with a provider who didn’t listen to you, respect your time, or treat you like an equal, don’t settle. Becoming an empowered patient may take time and trial and error, but it’s worth it in the end.
Also, if you’ve ever run into problems with your insurance refusing to cover birth control or other reproductive and sexual health care needs contact the National Women’s Law Center’s program, CoverHer for help.
If you or someone you know have trouble affording or accessing birth control, check out our contraceptive access fund, BCBenefits to cover many of the cost barriers associated with accessing birth control. See if you’re eligible.
There are lots of resources online for questions that arise as your get a handle on your health. But consider speaking with friends and family about their experiences and preferences too. Sharing knowledge among those you trust can be a great way to better understand what to expect when seeking care and how to stand up for yourself if you think that the care you’re receiving isn’t inclusive.