This article was last updated Aug. 22, 2022.
Textbooks? Purchased. Dorm room décor? Check. Bags packed? Yep. Your teen may feel ready to start college, but before they go, it’s important to help them make a plan for their health care External Site.
Living on your own comes with a lot of firsts and responsibility. At age 18, your child becomes responsible for their health care and health care-related decisions. If they don’t already, they’ll need to know how to find an in-network doctor, schedule medical appointments, know where to get care in an emergency, be informed about their medical history and know how to fill a prescription by themselves.
Overwhelmed yet? Don’t be. Here’s a quick guide to preparing your college student External Site for managing their health care on their own.
Have a health insurance plan
First things first. Your college student needs to have health insurance, since most colleges require it External Site (and many offer their own plans). Your teen also needs to know how to access and use their health insurance plan. You have a few options to ensure they have coverage:
Keep them on your existing health plan.
This is the best option if your child has any pre-existing conditions or they plan to manage all non-emergent medical care and appointments during school breaks back home.If they’re already insured on your plan, they can stay on it until they turn 26. For students moving out-of-state and currently covered by an HMO plan, they may need to get a guest membership. For Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield members, you can start this process by calling Customer Service at the number on your ID card.
Help them enroll in their own individual health plan.
If your teen is insured under your individual plan, you don’t have to wait until open enrollment to do this, since moving outside the existing plan's coverage area will prompt a 60-day special enrollment period. Keep in mind that the window doesn’t start until they have officially moved, and you’ll need to provide proof of residence once they’re on campus.
If your teen's college does offer their own health plan, you may need to sign a waiver every year stating they have other insurance to avoid unnecessary charges on the tuition bill.
College students can enroll during a special enrollment period.
Moving out of an existing health plan's coverage area prompts a 60-day special enrollment period. View Wellmark's individual health plans and help your teen enroll in their own plan.
Know where to go
After being driven to countless well-child checkups and other medical appointments, it’s time for your teen to decide when, how and where to seek care for themselves — whether they’re just feeling under the weather or are experiencing a medical emergency. Here are a few things they should know:
- Where the student health center is. Student health centers can usually treat simple colds and other minor ailments at little to no cost for students, since they are already funded by tuition. If there isn’t a student health center on campus, ask the school if they have any preferred health care providers in the area close by.
- The location of the nearest urgent care center. Your teen may want to consider urgent care if they need a last-minute appointment or the student health center is closed. Discuss how they’ll get there, especially if they don’t have a car on campus.
- An in-network hospital Opens New Window nearby. Emergency room visits can be expensive, so your teen should know what’s considered a medical emergency Opens in a new window and when it's appropriate to dial 9-1-1.
- How their (or your) health plan works. Do they have to pay for visits up-front, or will they receive a bill in the mail later? And, do they need their insurance card with them at every visit? Will they need to have a guest membership if they’re on your plan but attending school out-of-state?
- Where they can fill their prescriptions. Typically, a college campus will have several nearby drugstores with pharmacies, but you should help your teen pick one (ideally, one that is open 24 hours) and walk them through the steps of getting a prescription filled. You can also use the tools on myWellmark® to set up mail-order delivery Opens in a new window for added convenience when filling prescriptions.
Give them the information
As you transition into handing the health care reins over to your teen, it’s important that they have a basic understanding of their medical history to help them make decisions about their care down the road. In addition to talking to them about their medical history, be sure to go over:
- Immunization records
- What’s generally covered (and not covered) by their health insurance
- Prescription information, including dosage and reason for taking, plus any side effects
- Eyeglasses or contact lens prescriptions, if applicable
- Information about how to manage chronic health conditions, like diabetes or asthma, on their own
- Anything a new health care provider would need to know to care for them
Be open to communication
Once your child turns 18, they will have to provide permission for their doctors to discuss medical information and decisions about their care with any other adult — including parents and university staff. This can be a tough thing to navigate, especially if you’ve been involved in setting up appointments, scheduling tests and making (or helping them make) other important medical decisions up until this point.
While college is a key time to build independence and learn life skills, your teen may still feel comfortable with you remaining somewhat involved in this part of their life. To do that, though, you’ll need to fill out a few forms External Site.
If your college student has developed a relationship with their personal doctor at home, it may be helpful to keep that communication open, as well, to help with the transition. Depending on the doctor, they may have virtual visit capabilities. And, there's also the option of talking to your doctor over the phone.
Prioritize mental health
We certainly don’t need to tell you that college is a major time of transition for your teen. While starting college and living away from parents can be exciting, it can also increase the prevalence of common mental health conditions like depression and anxiety. According to the Healthy Minds Study from the University of Michigan Opens PDF, 36 percent of college students experience moderate to major depression and 31 percent suffer from an anxiety disorder.
Symptoms of depression are harder to catch when your child isn’t living at home, but keep an eye out for the following External Site:
- Feelings of sadness, frustration, hopelessness and irritability
- Sleeping too little or too much
- Losing interest in hobbies, sports, or other activities they previously enjoyed
- Negative performance in school
- Changes in appetite and significant weight loss or gain
- Difficulty thinking, concentrating on schoolwork, remembering things and making decisions
If you think your teen may be more than just overwhelmed by their first few weeks and months of school, talk to them about your concerns and encourage them to seek help. They can make an appointment with a local mental health professional or use services like Doctor On Demand® External Site to chat with a board-certified provider via their smartphone, tablet or computer.
College in the time of COVID-19
Just as in recent years, sending your teen off to college may come with specific protocols and precautions. Before they start school, they may need to get tested for COVID-19, get vaccinated or get boosters. If they are living on campus, there may be physical distancing requirements in place. They may have to wear masks in public spaces, and some of their classes may be online-only.
Every college and university will have slightly different policies, so be sure to check with administrative staff if you have any questions. You can also get up-to-date information on how Wellmark is handling the coronavirus pandemic and what testing and treatments are covered under Wellmark plans at Wellmark.com/coronavirus Opens New Window.
Make health insurance even easier for your teen
If your teen has Wellmark health insurance coverage, they have several resources to help them manage their health insurance and find care whenever they need it. With a free myWellmark account, they can find in-network doctors, estimate costs for care, learn more about their benefits and manage other aspects of their well-being. They can even use the myWellmark app to pull up a digital version of their ID card if they misplace the physical one.
To sign them up for a myWellmark account, get started at myWellmark.com Opens New Window.
- HealthyChildren.org — Healthy Tips for the College Freshman External Site
- NPR.org — Off To College? Don't Forget To Pack A Plan For Your Health External Site
- Money.USNews.com — 5 Things to Know About Student Health Insurance External Site
- NYTimes.com —Do College Students Need the Campus Health Plan? External Site