If you're a student, you're probably looking for ways to conserve your cash. What you need to know about student health insurance.
Being a student these days can mean struggling to survive on a part-time job and doing without things you don’t think you can afford.
If you’re not covered by your parents’ health insurance, the question is not so much can you afford health insurance, but can you afford not to have it?
This guide looks at the types of health insurance for students available and at ways to make it more affordable for those on a tight budget.
Compare student cover online or with an adviser
Can’t I just be a dependent on my parents’ health insurance?
When you’re 25 years old or younger, student health insurance is one of those expenses you might feel you can probably do without. Your mum and dad might feel differently and may insist that you have some level of private health insurance cover in place.
Happily, there are certain circumstances where you can be covered as a child or student dependant under your parents’ health insurance policy. You’ll typically need to be under the age of 25, not married or in a de facto relationship, and studying full-time in order to qualify for student health insurance.
However, the exact rules surrounding dependent eligibility differ between fund, so let’s take a look at the policies of the ones on the finder.com.au panel.
ahm health insurance for dependent
AHM offers student health insurance and cover for three types of dependants:
- A child dependent. The child of a health fund member or their spouse, not married or in a de facto relationship, and who is under the age of 21.
- A student dependents. The child of a health fund member or their spouse, not married or in a de facto relationship, at least 21 years old but has not yet turned 25, and who is undertaking full-time education.
- An adult dependent. The child of a health fund member or their spouse, not married or in a de facto relationship, at least 21 years old but has not yet turned 25, and who is not a student dependent.
No excess payments apply to adult dependents, student dependents or child dependents on your policy.
Australian Unity health insurance for dependent
Under Australian Unity health insurance, a dependent is a child up to 23 years of age who is unmarried. However, children can be covered as student dependents up until they turn 25, as long as they are not married or in a de facto relationship, and they are attending a full-time course of study or undertaking an apprenticeship approved by Australian Unity.
GMHBA health insurance for dependent
Child dependents receive automatic cover under a family or single parent membership until they
turn 21 years of age regardless of their student or employment status. To remain on the membership as a student dependent following their 21st birthday, the child must be enrolled in an approved course of full-time study. Student dependents can then be covered until they reach 25 years of age.
HCF health insurance for dependent
HCF offers cover for the following three types of dependent:
- Child dependent. A child dependent is someone who is less than 22 years of age and is the child of the policyholder or their partner. They must not be married or living in a de facto relationship, and they must be primarily reliant on the policyholder for financial support.
- Student dependent. A student dependent is a person aged between 22 and 24 (inclusive) and who is a full-time student at school, college or university. They must not be married or living in a de facto relationship, they must be the child of the policyholder or their partner, and they must be primarily reliant on the policyholder for financial support.
- Adult dependent. An adult dependent is a person aged between 22 and 24 (inclusive) who isn’t a student or child dependent. They must be the child of the policyholder or their partner and they must be primarily reliant on the policyholder for financial support.
nib health insurance for dependent
Children can be classified as dependent children until they reach 21 years of age. Once that happens, children aged from 21 and up to 25 years of age can be covered as a student dependent if they are undertaking full-time study and are properly registered with nib as a student dependent. Children aged from 21 and up to 25 years of age who are no longer studying can also remain on their parents’ cover as an adult dependent, but an additional fee applies.
Transport Health cover for dependent
Unmarried children up to the age of 21 can be included as dependent children on your policy. Once your child turns 21, if he or she is studying full-time (in an approved apprenticeship or study course) they can receive cover as a student dependent until their 25th birthday.
In addition, children aged between 21 and 25 who are not studying can be covered as adult dependents. However, they must be unmarried and cannot be living in a de facto relationship.
Student declarations online
If you want your child to be covered under your health insurance policy as a student dependent, you will need to follow your fund’s procedure for registering a dependent. Getting this job done before your child’s 21st birthday can help them maintain a sufficient level of insurance protection.
While the exact method for registering a student dependent varies between health fund, many allow you to register a dependent online. This can typically be done by following a few simple steps, including:
- Logging into your online health fund account
- Clicking on the relevant tab or link to register a dependent
- Changing the child’s membership from that of a child dependent to a student dependent
- Declaring that the child is a full-time student for the current calendar year
- Specifying the educational institution at which the student dependent is studying
- Declaring that the student dependent does not earn more than a certain amount of annual income, for example $20,000
Once you’ve provided the relevant information and submitted your request, your health fund will change your child to a student dependent. Alternatively, you may wish to phone your health fund directly to take care of this task.
What cover do you need?
If you are a single full-time student aged between 21 and 25, you're classed as a ‘student dependant’ and can be covered by your parents’ health insurance until reach the age of 25 or you complete your studies. After that, you’re on your own and will need to take out your own private health cover.
If you are only a part-time student, are married or in a de facto relationship, then you too must take care of your own health insurance needs. What those needs are will depend on your general health, your income and the kinds of things you consider important to have cover for.
How to get the cheapest* health insurance as a student
If you are a student, your income is possibly only coming from part-time work, so saving on the cost of your insurance is a high priority. Ways to do this could include:
- Only taking out basic hospital cover (or none at all) and concentrating your ancillary cover around those extras you use regularly
- Paying your insurance premiums annually in advance to avoid administration fees
- Paying your premium before the rate rise in March each year to lock in the current rate for another year
- Paying by direct debit, which can earn you a discount with many funds
- Opting for a higher excess in order to lower your premium
- Joining a restricted membership fund if you are eligible (such as an industry or employer fund) to enjoy lower premiums and more generous benefits
- Only paying for things you may need, such as emergency ambulance, and not for things that you probably won’t need yet, such as obstetrics and IVF.
What is the difference between the levels of health insurance?
Both hospital and extras have varying levels of cover and the level you choose will depend on your budget and your personal priorities. The four main levels of hospital cover are:
- Top Private Hospital Cover. Top student health insurance hospital typically covers all services where Medicare pays a benefit.
- Medium Private Hospital Cover. Generally covers a wide range of Medicare services with some exceptions, such as pregnancy and obstetrics, assisted reproductive services, cataract and lens procedures, joint replacements, dialysis and sterilisation.
- Basic Private Hospital Cover. Basic student health insurance hospital cover can provide cover for a range of Medicare services, but typically carries a wider range of exclusions than Medium hospital cover, such as cardiac-related services, non-cosmetic plastic surgery, rehabilitation, psychiatric services and palliative care.
- Public Hospital Cover. Public hospital cover treatment in a public hospital only.
The services included in extras policies can vary widely between health funds. The three main levels of extras cover you might encounter are:
- Comprehensive. Comprehensive insurance covers general and major dental, endodontic, orthodontic, optical, non-PBS pharmaceuticals, physio, podiatry, psychology and others.
- Medium. Medium insurance often covers general and major dental, endodontics, optical, physio, chiro, podiatry and others.
- Basic. A limited level of cover. These policies may cover a narrower range of services than medium cover levels, or might have a similar range of cover but with lower limits, or reimbursement amounts.
Most health funds offer packaged cover that includes both hospital and extras cover or allow you to mix and match your cover according to your needs. Always read the Product Disclosure Statement (PDS), as some policies may not cover all costs associated with your treatment.
I'm an international student coming to Australia, what do I need?
If you are a student from another country studying in Australia, you will need to have Overseas Student Health Cover (OSHC) while you are here. The only exceptions to this are if you are a Norwegian, Swedish or Belgian student, as these countries have their own schemes for overseas students or reciprocal health care agreements with Australia.
OSHC covers you, your spouse and any dependents for visits to a GP, some hospital treatments, ambulance and some pharmaceutical benefits up to a predetermined annual limit. It does not cover extras such as optical and dental, for which additional cover can be purchased.
OSHC is available for up to five years, after which it can be extended upon application. As with normal student health cover, waiting periods apply for pre-existing medical conditions and pregnancy-related services (12 months) and pre-existing psychiatric conditions (two months).
Funds who offer OSHC in Australia include Allianz Global Assistance, BUPA Australia, Medibank Private, NIB OSHC and Australian Health Management Group (AHM).
Traps to avoid when looking for cover as a student
When looking for health insurance as a student, there are certain pitfalls to avoid, just as there are when comparing any insurance policies.
- Price isn't everything. Even though you may not want to spend a great deal on your student cover, never choose a policy on the basis of price alone. The main reason some policies are more affordable than others is because they don’t provide the same level of insurance.
- Always read the Product Disclosure Statement (PDS). The benefit limits, exclusions and terms and conditions are all itemised in this document. Signing up without reading them could see you only partially covered or not covered at all on certain treatments and services.
- Don’t just put your policy in a drawer and forget about it. Review it regularly, as a highly competitive insurance market means more cost-effective deals are emerging all the time.
Tips for finding the right fund as a student
As well as avoiding the pitfalls, taking advantage of a little inside knowledge can help you find the best* student health insurance for your money.
- Can you afford to change fund? It’s much easier to do these days and all your benefits and entitlements travel with you to your new fund.
- Can you increase the excess? An immediate and effective way to reduce your premium is to increase the amount of excess you pay. But don’t make it any higher than you can afford, given that you will have to come up with the money at fairly short notice.
- Does the policy include ambulance cover? You might want to look for policies that offer full ambulance cover, as many only offer emergency ambulance cover, which does not include non-urgent trips to the hospital for treatment.
- What's the gap? Ensure that your fund has agreements with your hospital and ancillary service providers, or you could end up paying more out of pocket yourself.
Private vs public – what’s right for students?
While having a private room and your own doctor might not be that important to you at this stage in your life, having to join a waiting list for elective surgery and pay your own dental and optical bills might be. Dental is the most claimed extras benefit in Australia and it can be one of the most expensive. The only circumstances in which dental is covered by Medicare is if it is performed to prevent disease or to protect someone’s health and even then, only in limited circumstances.
Medicare also doesn’t cover ambulance services, and as a trip to the hospital by ambulance can be extremely costly, it might also be worth taking out cover just for this.
At the end of the day, public and private health care each have their pros and cons and it’s not necessarily about choosing one over the other. Even with private student health insurance, you can choose to use public health for certain treatments and services. So perhaps the answer is to take advantage of both, in order to have access to the best* possible health care you can afford.
Compare health insurance policies for students
Because the majority of students are in their physical prime, your health insurance choices may seem a little easier. If you don’t envisage spending a lot of time in hospital, other than due to an accident, it can be tempting to go light on hospital cover and look at getting more immediate help with your extras expenses. But ultimately, how much or how little private health insurance you opt for as a student will depend on your circumstances, your budget and the degree of risk you are prepared to take with your own health.
* The offers compared on this page are chosen from a range of products finder.com.au has access to track details from and is not representative of all the products available in the market. Products are displayed in no particular order or ranking. The use of terms 'Best', 'Cheapest' and 'Top' are not product ratings and are subject to our disclaimer. You should consider seeking independent financial advice and consider your personal financial circumstances when comparing products.