If you’re under 26, you probably haven’t thought much about health insurance coverage. Because there are laws that require everyone to be covered by insurance (Affordable Care Act), it’s really helpful and important to understand some basic things about insurance and how to use the benefits for mental health care.
Why is health insurance coverage important?
Even healthy, young people can get hurt or sick – and paying for medical care when you’re sick or hurt can be very, very expensive. Insurance helps you pay for your medical care. If you’re paying for everything from your own (or family’s) pocket, it’s likely you’ll make health and mental health care decisions based on what you can afford instead of what’s best for your health and well-being.
Health insurance through a parent or guardian
If your parent/guardian gets their health insurance from an employer, from the Health Insurance Market or through a publicly funded insurance plan you can probably be added to their insurance plan. Even if you have your own job, or if you’re no longer in school, you can probably continue to be covered by a parent/guardian’s plan until you’re 26 (although if your job provides insurance it may be a more economical choice).
Health insurance if you aren’t covered by a parent or guardian
- Once you have started college or turned 18, if you’re not covered by a parent/guardian, you can obtain insurance on your own. If you feel confused or overwhelmed by all the information available and how to do this for yourself, ask a friend or adult whom you trust to help you with this.
- If you’re in school (college or university) – most colleges and universities offer a student health plan that can be an easy and affordable way to get basic insurance coverage.
- If you aren’t in school, or don’t want to use your college or university’s health insurance plan, you can apply for coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace instead. When you apply, you’ll find out if you qualify for an insurance plan with savings based on your income.
- If you’re under 20, another option is to apply for free or low cost care through a program called Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
Using health insurance to obtain mental health care
If you decide to work with a therapist/counselor or access other mental health services, it is best to go to your insurance company’s website to learn about what services are covered and to search for a professional near you that accepts your plan. It’s important to be aware that every insurance plan differs in how many visits with a counselor are covered by their plan, how many days you’re covered for inpatient care and what types of mental health programs are covered. It’s best to check ahead of time so that you don’t end up with unexpected medical bills.
Privacy issues when you’re covered by a parent or guardian’s health insurance
The federal privacy rule (HIPAA) generally prohibits the unauthorized disclosure of a person’s medical information. In theory, this protects your privacy, but there are a lot of ways that your mental health, reproductive health or other medical health care information can end up being disclosed, especially when you’re not financially responsible for your own medical care and/or covered by a parent/guardian’s insurance plan. Rules around this differ somewhat from state to state and are also different depending on whether or not you are over 18. After age 18, you are considered an adult in relation to healthcare and have more control over your health information in most states.
There are a few things that can be done to make sure that your privacy is respected and protected. Discuss your ideas and opinions about privacy with your parent/guardian so they understand your perspective. Also, try to make sure that all paperwork allowing for, or prohibiting their access to your health care information is discussed openly, reviewed, and signed. It’s also helpful to talk to your health care provider about your expectations for privacy and confidentiality so that they know how to handle billing and communication about your care. Finally, find out your insurance company’s policies and procedures about disclosure of sensitive and private information – you may be able to work with them to make sure your privacy is maintained.