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Insuring your health

Brighter life
August 04, 2016

Get higher education, not higher health care bills

There are a variety of health insurance options available to students. And having the right coverage can save big on out-of-pocket costs.

When Jennifer Peters was a second-year student at the University of Waterloo, she saved $140 on prescription medicines. How? By using her student union health plan. Without it, her out-of-pocket costs would have been more than double.

Jennifer is a lot like most university students. She’s too busy keeping up with assignments, studying for exams and wondering about her career prospects to have much time to think about her health. That’s why a simple option for health care coverage might be the answer for students like her — or for the students in your life.

According to Canada Health Act — Frequently Asked Questions, published by Health Canada, all provinces and territories provide a common standard of basic health care coverage, but the coverage in each jurisdiction beyond that standard varies. Often, services and products such as regular dental checkups, prescription drugs, naturopathy, homeopathy, chiropractic or physiotherapy aren’t covered.

Fortunately, there are plenty of coverage options for students and recent graduates. As a student, your son or daughter may still be covered under your workplace benefits plan, if you have one, or may have access to a plan through his or her school’s student union. Failing these options, you can consider buying individual health insurance.

Coverage under your employee benefits

If you’re enrolled in a benefit plan at work, it’s true that your dependent children are cut off once they reach a certain age. But if they’re full-time college or university students, that age is typically extended. According to Sandy Oriente, Web Enrolment Specialist at Sun Life Financial, the insurance industry standard in all provinces except Quebec is to cover children until age 25 if they’re enrolled in full-time studies or until age 21 if they’re not. Your plan may be customized for your company; check it for full details. In Quebec, children are covered until age 26 if they’re still in school.

Depending on your plan, your child may be able to show a coverage card (or cards, if both you and your spouse have coverage) and payments will be made on your behalf directly to the dentist or pharmacist. In this case, you would pay any balance due. Or, you may pay first, submit your claim electronically, and then be reimbursed.

Coverage under student union plans

Most university and college student unions offer inexpensive group health coverage for students. Generally, the cost is among the incidentals added to tuition fees, but it can be refunded if you opt out by providing proof of coverage elsewhere.

Plans such as the one offered by the Carleton University Students’ Association cover basic costs, such as eye exams every two years as well as 80% of the cost of basic dental check-ups and prescription drugs.

Other student unions offer more extensive plans at a higher cost, covering services and products such as orthotics, massage therapy, naturopathy and even tutoring services during long hospital stays.

Visit the student union website for your child’s school for more details.

Coverage under their own employee benefits

Recent graduates and working students may also be able to take advantage of benefits offered by their employers.

Oriente says some employers offer flexible benefits, which allow individual employees to identify their needs and customize their benefits accordingly. For example, a recent grad with no spouse or children to protect could opt out of optional or supplemental life insurance. The leftover credits could then be used to enhance his or her medical or dental coverage or, depending on the plan, could even go towards an RRSP or a personal health spending account to pay for a variety of health- and wellness-related expenses.

Coverage purchased individually

If none of the above choices are available to your child, purchasing personal health insurance is an option. Even if he or she has a job offering basic benefits, additional coverage could save money if illness or injury was to strike suddenly.

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