Student Health Insurance In California in 2023

WRITTEN BY: Craig Sturgill


With busy schedules and tight budgets, it can be easy for college students to forget about health insurance until they need to use it. If you or your child is a California student getting ready for college, read more about available health insurance options for students, the benefits of student health insurance, and more.

What are the California health insurance options available for students?

It’s never a good idea to go without healthcare coverage, and many California schools require their registered students to have some form of coverage. Thankfully, California students have many options for healthcare, including:

  • College plans
  • Parent’s insurance plan
  • Marketplace plan
  • Medicaid
  • Catastrophic plans

Depending on their coverage needs and budget, students in California may also choose to enroll in employer-sponsored, short-term, or private insurance plans.

Benefits of student health insurance

Student health plans are special policies that colleges offer enrolled students. These plans will vary but generally offer coverage for the entire year. Many student health insurance plans cover you wherever you go, even if you transfer schools. Make sure the plan is right for your health care needs before enrolling.

Rules for California health insurance for students

Unless they qualify for an exemption, most California students must purchase health insurance or be subject to tax penalties.

Did the state implement the ACA’s Medicaid expansion?

California has accepted federal Medicaid expansion, with Medi-Cal as the largest nationwide program, covering almost 14 million people. In California, children and young adults are eligible regardless of immigration status.

California ACA Open Enrollment dates

Open enrollment in California is from November 1 through January 31. If you have a qualifying life event, you may apply for a health plan outside the open enrollment dates, usually within the last 60 days.

Are health insurance subsidies available?

In 2019, California enacted legislation to create a temporary subsidy for Covered California enrollees with household incomes up to 600% of the poverty level. However, these subsidies aren’t necessary as of 2021 (and through 2025). Due to the American Rescue Plan, California residents receive federal subsidies that make up for the previous state subsidies.

What to consider when choosing California student health insurance plans

Before you enroll in a California student health insurance plan, ask yourself the following questions to ensure you’re making the best decision for your healthcare needs:

  • Are you going to school in-state or out-of-state?
  • Are you considered someone’s dependent?
  • Will you stay on your parent’s health insurance plan or enroll independently?

What type of student health insurance plans are cheaper?

Depending on your healthcare needs, school-offered insurance plans are generally best for students looking for convenience and affordability. If your school offers its student healthcare plan, check with your administrator for details.

What happens if you don’t have student health insurance coverage?

California residents without health insurance face a $750 tax penalty. Under the Affordable Care Act, California student health plans count as minimum essential coverage, so there is no penalty while covered.

How to get California student health insurance coverage

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How to get coverage on your parent’s health insurance plan

Many full-time students are eligible to remain on their parent’s plan. However, if you go to school out of state, your coverage levels may not be as good as your home state. Staying on a parent’s health insurance could also be more expensive.

Getting health insurance from your school

Some colleges, such as the University of California, offer their health plan for full-time college students. Student loans generally help pay for these plans, with premiums included in school expenses. Student health plans tend to be lower than plans on the national Marketplace, with lower deductibles. A drawback is that some plans require paying the premium in one lump sum.

Getting student health insurance coverage through the ACA

If you’re attending a California school and seeking a Marketplace plan, you’ll purchase your policy through the California marketplace, also known as the Medical Insurance Exchange of California. Many students may qualify for tax credits or lower premiums if their parents don’t claim them as tax dependents.

Getting student health insurance coverage from Medicaid

Some students are eligible for California student health insurance through Medicaid or Medi-Cal. Since the passage of the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid has expanded, and many states now offer Medicaid to individuals who wouldn’t have previously qualified. Compare your options, as you may be better off purchasing a Marketplace plan if you qualify for subsidies.

What other student health insurance options are available in California?

Students in California may also enroll in short-term, employer-sponsored, or private/off-exchange health insurance plans, depending on their coverage needs and budget.

Cheapest student health insurance plans in California

California’s cheapest student health insurance depends on coverage options, how much you receive care, and other factors.

Cheapest health insurance plan for students with low out-of-pocket maximums 

If you have higher medical costs than most, enrolling in a high-tier plan with a low out-of-pocket maximum is an intelligent option. Gold or Platinum tiers will allow you to reach your maximum easily, so your insurer will start covering costs sooner. California students’ cheapest health insurance plan is the L.A. Care Health Plan (Platinum 90 HMO).

Cheapest student health insurance plan with high out-of-pocket maximums 

If you’re in good health, enrolling in a low-cost plan with a high out-of-pocket maximum is best. The Bronze 60 HMO by L.A. Care Health Plan is California’s cheapest health insurance.

Cheapest student health insurance plan with an HSA option

Another health insurance alternative is a health savings account (HSA) plan, which lets you build tax-free savings for health-related expenses. The cheapest plan with an HSA option in California is the Bronze 60 HDHP EnhancedCare PPO by Health Net.

Cheapest HMO/PPO/POS health insurance plans available for students 

Your healthcare needs determine your best plan. Health maintenance organization (HMO) plans are the cheapest, but you have limited options. Preferred provider organization (PPO) plans are a little more flexible but more costly. Exclusive provider organization (EPO) plans are more flexible than HMOs, and you don’t always need a referral.

In California, the cheapest options for all plan types within the Silver tier are:

  • HMO: The Silver 70 HMO by L.A. Care Health Plan
  • PPO: The Silver 70 EnhancedCare PPO by Health Net
  • EPO: The Silver 70 Select EPO by Oscar

California Student Health Insurance FAQs

Can I get Medi-Cal if I’m a student?

Students living independently and not claimed as tax dependents may apply for Medi-Cal.

How long can a child stay on a parent’s health insurance in California?

If a parent’s plan covers dependents, their children can get added or stay on it until they turn 26.

Can an international student get Covered in California?

Yes, U.S. citizens, U.S. nationals, and noncitizens lawfully present in the state may apply for health care through Covered California.

Finding Student Health Insurance In California

Finding student health insurance in California shouldn’t be a hassle. Take time out of your busy schedule to explore your options and coverage needs. Once you’re prepared, you can choose the best coverage for your needs and budget.