Off-Campus Medical and Mental Health Care
By Lisa Lewis
When you’re at college and need medical or mental health care, it’s reassuring to know you have resources available. Here’s a quick overview of what to keep in mind about your off-campus mental health and medical care options.
Even if you are seeking off-campus care, most colleges still require students to have health insurance. This means you’ll need to purchase coverage through your school if you’re not already covered.
- If you already have health insurance and you are considering keeping it, check with your current provider to find out what type of in-network care it offers in the city where you’re going to school and what your copays and deductibles will be. (You can look on your insurance provider’s website or call the phone number listed on your insurance card to get these answers.) This information will help you determine whether it’s less expensive to go with your college’s plan instead of—or in addition to—your current insurance.
- If you already have health insurance and you don’t want to use the school’s insurance, you’ll need to provide the school with a copy of your insurance card to show that you have other coverage. The fee for college-provided health insurance is usually part of your tuition bill at the start of the school year, so be sure to do so before the deadline so you don’t get charged.
- If you don’t already have health insurance, buying insurance through your school is generally more affordable than getting it through another source. Another option is purchasing coverage through the federal insurance marketplace or through the state where you’ll be attending school.
For more specialized care, your campus health center likely will refer you to an outside provider. You may also choose to go directly to this step if you already know you need a specialist, perhaps because of a pre-existing condition.
When looking for an outside provider, you’ll want to consider the distance from where you’re living and how you’ll get there.
If you need care right away, an urgent-care clinic or emergency room will be the quickest option—but make sure to look into the costs. If you’re making an appointment with a specialist or other outside provider, be aware that there may be a lag before they’re able to fit you in due to scheduling availability.
You’re legally an adult once you turn 18, which means your education records—including your on-campus health records—generally can’t be shared unless you sign a consent form. (The exception is if you’re considered in danger of harming yourself or others or if you remain on a family insurance plan, which means your caregivers may see what doctors you are seeing when they look at billing documents.)
You also can choose which information you want to share. You can decide, for example, to keep information about your sexual health or mental health diagnosis private. Your rights to privacy for your student health information are part of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).
If you are using your family’s insurance plan, be aware that they will receive the bill for the copay from your appointment. Your actual health details won’t be disclosed if you’re 18 or older, though, because of your health-care privacy rights under the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Your medical details can be shared with your parents or other designated family members only if you complete a medical information release form that authorizes it.
When getting off-campus care, you’ll need to use your own health insurance or pay the full cost. If you’ve opted for insurance through your university, check what is covered if you need to see an off-campus provider.
There may be low-cost community clinics located near your college campus. To find one, click here.
If you have your own insurance, find out which providers are covered and what costs you’ll be responsible for. A provider that’s considered in network for your insurer will cost less than one that’s out of network. That information likely will be listed on your insurance card, or you can call your insurer or look it up on their website.