For better or for worse, unlike other countries, the USA does not provide socialized healthcare. And because medical care can be very expensive, it’s vital to have health insurance in order to reduce overall medical- and health-related costs.
Health insurance for international students in the USA
Health insurance is not mandatory for U.S. citizens, and your visa may not require it either. In fact, only J-1 visa holders and their dependents must have insurance. However, many schools require students to have it – including international students – ad even have their own health insurance program that automatically enrolls new students. As always, be sure to check your school’s guidelines.
Generally, health insurance covers doctor’s visits, medical procedures, visits to the emergency room, prescriptions, medical devices, counseling, emergency services, rehabilitation services, lab work, and surgeries – with many varying degrees of costs, allowances, and flexibilities.
Remember, though, that the USA’s healthcare system is not free. Even required insurance from your school will still have annual or semester rates as well as possible additional fees, and some types of medical care may be limited or not covered at all. And there’s an important caveat: For many Americans, dental insurance and/or vision coverage (such as glasses or contacts) are not provided in their main insurance plan. So make sure to check the exact details about coverage from your school’s plan, since dental work is extremely expensive out of pocket and you don’t want to spend all your scholarship money on fixing cavities.
Like all industries, healthcare has a lot of jargon, and if you didn’t understand what “out of pocket” means then you’re not alone. Take an evening and go through a glossary of healthcare terms before you start making any doctor’s appointments so every part of your insurance benefits are clear.
Other healthcare tips
You already know that moving to the USA will be full of culture shocks. But it’s not just about which side of the road we drive on or our slang words – even medications are different. Though the internet can help you find what you’re looking for, some ingredients in medications may be different or illegal, or the medication may not meet general safety standards. So it’s much more reliable to ask a pharmacist to help you figure out the American version and if it will be safe and effective for you.
Some countries may sell certain medications or other health-related items over the counter that you’re used to needing a prescription for, or vice versa.
If you have a chronic or pre-existing condition, it’s a good idea to bring with your relevant medical records, prescriptions, and images such as MRIs (or at least find out how to access them easily) so you can make sure your new doctor in the USA is up to date on your health.