Health insurance no longer compulsory for international students

international student insurance

International students in the US are opting for no health insurance, a risky move that could leave them with big bills.

A policy change at Central Michigan University means international students no longer have to have medical insurance. It is standard practice to require international students to buy sufficient health insurance in order to study in the U.S.

This change means many foreign students aren’t properly covered and consequently are running up large medical bills when they do need health care.

As reported this week in Central Michigan Life, international students fall into two distinct categories. The first group (25% of foreign students) is comprised of students with a scholarship which pays for their cover, and student with a J1 visa who require insurance as part of their visa conditions.

The second group are those who aren’t obliged to buy insurance, and according to the Director of International Students, Tracy Nakajima, many don’t think about taking out insurance until something goes wrong.

“F-1 visa students have the freedom to choose their own policy or choose whether or not to even have a policy,” Nakajima said. “Unfortunately … they don’t realize they need a health plan usually until something happens to them or someone they know.”

The problem isn’t financial says Nakajima, both J-1 and F-1 student visas require applicants to prove they have enough income to study and live in the U.S. for the duration of their course. Part of this total includes provision for health insurance, among other things.

International graduate student, Adam Sampiev, says the information provided by the university only does so much. “When students come here from other countries … they aren’t aware of the health system; they don’t have all the information necessary to pick the right one,” Sampiev told Central Michigan Life. “Making the wrong choice could cost you hundreds of dollars. It isn’t possible for you to make the right decision.”

When the health reforms known as “Obamacare” come into force in 2014 changes may be made in terms of what international students must pay and what they are covered for. Before then, universities can only make health insurance compulsory or provide students with all the information they need to choose the best insurance for themselves.