Choosing a Health Plan After College

Having health insurance is important for everyone, but if you plan to live in Massachusetts after you graduate, it's especially important for you to know that health insurance coverage is now required by law for all Massachusetts residents. Failure to be covered for more than 60 days during any year can result in a tax penalty. If you plan to remain in Massachusetts after graduation you will be required by the universal coverage law to have health insurance.

If you are remaining in Massachusetts, options for obtaining coverage include

  • Coverage through a new employer or graduate school. This is often the best option.
  • Continued coverage under your family's plan: At the current time, federal law requires insurance companies to continue to cover family members through the age of 26 under family plans.
  • Purchasing coverage through the Massachusetts Health Connector, an agency created by the Commonwealth to facilitate purchase of insurance for those not covered by employers or family plans:
      • The Connector offers a wide variety of plans (Mass Choice) using local insurers like Blue Cross, Harvard Pilgrim and Tufts.
      • Some plans are specifically geared to young adults at a reasonable cost; these include plans that cover primary care and prevention as well as accident and illness coverage.
      • The Connector also offers subsidized plans (MassCares) to those whose income is low enough to meet the means test. These subsidized plans are not available if you plan to continue as a full time graduate student.
      • The Connector can be accessed at or by phone at 1-877-MA Enroll. There are some "look-alike" web sites trying to sell you insurance online, so be sure to enter the website address correctly.
  • Continued coverage under COBRA is always available if you are currently enrolled in a plan, and can't get other coverage, but this is an expensive option.
  • For those with SHIP coverage (e.g., school insurance), it can be extended for three months after coverage ends in August but this, too, is expensive.

If you are going to live outside of Massachusetts after graduation

  • Employer based or graduate school coverage will likely be the first option
  • If you are currently covered under your family plan, check with the plan to see if it offers an extension of family coverage for a year or two for non-dependent children. If not, COBRA coverage will be available. You might also investigate whether your insurer offers an individual plan appropriate for you to purchase.
  • Check on line or by phone with the other big insurers in your area (e.g., Blue Cross, Oxford Health) and see what individual plans they offer. Most have very good web sites; some with capacity to compare plans

How to Compare Health Plans

Deciding which plan to purchase is often difficult. If you are getting coverage through your school or employer, you might not have much choice of plans. If you are buying a plan as an individual, however, here are some suggestions to get you started:

  • Compare the coverage each plan has to offer. What services are covered? What services aren't covered? Which services might you need?
      • Take any special needs you might have into consideration when comparing benefits; e.g., do you care most about emergency coverage? mental health visits? prescription drug coverage?
      • Try out different illness "scenarios" to help with decision making
  • When you compare prices, take deductibles and co-pays into consideration
      • Deductibles: the amount you have to pay before the plan pays anything
      • Co-pays: the amount you have to pay on a continuing basis
  • Consider "catastrophic" plans that may only cover hospital based in-patient and outpatient services. These are likely to be less costly and may work if you or your family is able to cover your basic primary care
  • If available, consider "closed" HMOs like Kaiser Permanente where all the care is received at the same location. They are often a less expensive alternative.