America’s health care system is unique among industrialized democracies: there is no universal, government-sponsored health care plan for all citizens. Most Americans pay for private health insurance.
Without health insurance in the United States, a surgery or illness could cost thousands of dollars; according to The Commonwealth Fund, Americans pay more than people in other advanced countries when they are sick.
If international students get sick in the U.S. without health insurance, it could lead to costly expenses. So, many schools require international students to purchase health insurance plans before they arrive in the U.S. to minimize the insurance costs.
For international students, there are two main ways of acquiring health insurance in the U.S.: student health insurance provided by their university, or private medical insurance. But international students often have limited information and not many options.
“School insurance plans are very expensive,” said Minwha Lee, a student at Columbia University. “Usually American students are under their family’s health plans. International students don’t have family in the U.S., so I need to pay insurance by myself even though I have an insurance plan in my country.”
A number of private companies provide some insurance plans for international students. But as health insurance consultant Bishakha Chatterjee notes, “Some schools have specific coverage requirements for international students,” limiting students’ options.
These limits are especially inconvenient because they can make it even more difficult for international students to find a plan that fits their needs. Even then, their insurance may not cover certain procedures.
“Most insurance doesn’t cover dentistry and optical checkups,” said Lee. “Some international students wait until the semester is over and then they get dental service in their home countries.”
Jeonghyun Kim is a VOA intern for the English web desk. She is from South Korea, and is currently pursuing her Masters in Professional Studies in Journalism at Georgetown University.