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Understanding Health Insurance for International Students: A Basic Guide

To most international students, the American healthcare system can be challenging to navigate. It’s not so clear where you are supposed to get medical help when you need it, even though insurance is a legal requirement, taking a huge percentage of our yearly school budget. We still end up with medical bills that we pay for out of pocket because we either went to the wrong place for treatment, went to a hospital outside of our insurance network, or the general lack of knowledge of what is included or excluded in the specific insurance plan purchased. In some cases, the claim process is also left to the patient to handle, making it harder in a system you already had difficulty understanding. You end up not getting a refund from the insurance company even though you paid for it.

Commonly Used Medical Insurance Terms

It helps if you understand some of the terms used in the healthcare industry. Here are some common terms defined by

Premium: This is the amount you pay every month or every semester to have health insurance.

Claim: A request for payment that you or your health care provider submits to your health insurer when you receive care for any medical condition that is covered by your insurance.

Also, be aware that seeking medical attention in the United States is never completely free even after purchasing insurance; there are things like deductibles, copays or coinsurance that you are likely to pay every time you seek medical care with your insurance.

Deductible: This is a predetermined amount that YOU pay for when you seek medical care before your insurance plan starts to pay. It will affect your premium. The higher the deductible the lower the premium and vice versa.

Copay: A fixed amount you pay when medical service is rendered. It's paid in addition to the deductible.

Co-Insurance: Beyond your deductible, your plan might include co-insurance payments, which is a percentage of what you’ll be charged after your deductible is reached/exceeded. This is typically a percentage, like 10%.

It will save you money, time, and headache if you understand a few things before purchasing a specific health insurance coverage. Do not just buy any insurance because you’ve been asked by the school, rather take your time to understand what you are buying no matter how much you are paying for it. You do not want to wait until you are ill to understand where you are supposed to get treatment or whether your condition is covered or not.

According to, you need to consider the following factors when choosing a health insurance plan.

Your unique medical needs – What do you want to be covered for? Does the insurance plan you are about to purchase cover it?

  1. Understand what is excluded in your medical coverage – There are some conditions or situations that your insurance will not pay for. Read your policy and know what these are before you purchase the plan.

  2. Where you will get medical treatment if you fall sick – Ask your insurer about the locations of the hospitals, medical centers, clinics, or medical facilities that are within their network, and which you are allowed to walk into without paying extra to get medical attention.

  3. Understand how the claim process works – Ask your insurer how to submit a claim. Get the physical address and telephone number where claims should be sent. Please note that the office location of your insurer is MOST LIKELY NOT the place where you send claims.

Excluded Services for Most International Student Health Plans

Mostly, insurance plans do not cover existing conditions, but it gets even trickier. Most of the insurance plans designed for international students also do not cover the following:

Prescription medicines: Those who rely on drugs or devices like, inhalers, must ask for special accommodation or be prepared upfront to handle those kinds of bills on your own.

Optical treatments: These include eye tests, prescribed eyeglasses or contact lenses, so check if your insurance covers them or budget for them.

Dental care: Getting dental care is very expensive in the US and it's mostly not covered by international student plans, so if you constantly need dental care assistance, then plan for it upfront.

Vaccinations and general checkups: Vaccinations are not covered in almost all insurance. Should you need one for one reason or another be prepared to pay for it. If you require a general checkup without suffering from any specific illness, then most likely you will pay for it out of your pocket.

If possible, STAY OUT OF THE EMERGENCY ROOM – The emergency room is reserved for life-threatening conditions or very severe cases. Emergency room care is very expensive and sometimes your insurance will not cover you if you walk in there unnecessarily.

Always remember to keep your receipts for reimbursements from your insurance.

Free and Affordable Healthcare Resources around Oakland and San Francisco

Student Services has compiled some free or low cost Medical Health Resources available around Oakland, should you need medical help and/or mental health assistance and you are not sure what to do.

Please call the Student Services Office (510-628-8034) or visit this link for more information regarding these resources:

Please Note: The resources provided in this list are suggestions based on our online research. Student Services and Lincoln Chronicle is not responsible for the quality of care you get in these facilities.


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