Top Ten Things For Parents to Tell Their College Student

National health care reform has implications for students going off to college. For many students, it will be the first time they’ve managed their own health. Denise Ward, director of health and wellness at Macalester College in St. Paul, offers these health insurance and health care tips for parents.

1. Make sure your student has health insurance. The vast majority of colleges and universities offer at least a minimal plan if your student is currently not covered. If a student has college insurance, bills are generally sent directly to them. If your student is insured on your family plan, make sure it provides adequate coverage in the community/area where s/he is attending college. If the plan has a closed network of providers or charges significantly more for out of network care, consider adding the college/university’s health insurance option. Effective September 2010, dependents up to age 26 can stay on a family health insurance plan.

2. Give your student an insurance card. Your student should have his/her own insurance card if they’re continuing under your family plan. Scanning and emailing it to them is a good backup for you both.

3. Teach your student how to use insurance. Explain any services that need to be pre-approved, the concept of co-pays and deductibles, and why they might have to pay for some or all of their care at time of service. Make sure they know where to call with questions.

4. Know the law. Your student’s medical and counseling records are private, if he/she is at least 18 years old. Your student will need to provide written permission for you to have access to their health records.

5. Know campus policies. Some campuses do have a policy of notifying parents if a student engages in certain risky behavior or if there is a serious health issue that puts their student status at risk. Read the student and parent handbooks to learn of such policies.

6. Communicate about medical and mental health issues. Before they go to college, talk to your student about how you will communicate about medical/mental health care issues. Come to agreement on the things that are appropriate for him or her to handle independently or to keep confidential. If your expectation is that your student will tell you everything, he or she may not get needed care, especially if it’s perceived to be embarrassing. If your student is on your family insurance, most providers will send bills to the home address. It’s respectful to make sure your student knows this is one way you could find out information about his or her health concerns.

7. Ensure the college can provide appropriate care. Make sure the college health service knows of any ongoing health concerns. If your student has a pre-existing or chronic condition, make sure to send relevant information to the campus health service.

8. Keep the college informed. At times, parents will know of health issues before college officials do. For example, if a student is hospitalized, the hospital will frequently contact the family before the college even knows the hospitalization status. To protect your student’s status and ensure s/he stays on track academically, inform the college of any health issues that need special accommodations or will keep the student away from class.

9. Seek care for chronic conditions. Many college health services do not have the resources to manage chronic or complicated conditions. It’s helpful to find a specialist near campus that your son/daughter can establish a relationship with before an urgent need arises. The college health service can help you find local providers.

10. Use college resources and expertise. College health service staff has a wealth of knowledge and experience working with young adults. Contact them if you do have concerns. Your college staff wants to work with you to give your son/daughter the best experience possible.