Before you graduate you should probably know..

Kelly Skahan

The last 20-some years have been pretty sweet as far as parental protection goes. You’ve typically had a place to go home between semesters, probably had some help in the tuition department and could usually count on somebody to remind you to schedule a dentist appointment over Christmas break. While graduation doesn’t necessarily mean all of those perks need to end, it sometimes leads to a legally required separation from your parents’ health insurance, and that’s a big deal.

The health care system in the United States is intimidating and difficult to navigate. One component of many health insurance programs is that once dependents are no longer full-time students, they are no longer qualified to remain on the plan. While those heading on to graduate, law or medical school may rejoice at the prospect of a few more years on Mom and Dad’s health plan, those of us suddenly thrown into independence are left relatively clueless when it comes to making sure our health expenses are under control.

While some graduates are lucky enough to have a guaranteed job after graduation day, many are still searching for reasonable employment long after the final twilight shadows have gathered. For those still seeking employment, asking about health insurance options should become a priority when it comes to accepting a position. A job that offers health care is a little harder to come by than one without, so sometimes it’s worth accepting the job simply because the company will take care of you. Usually, a company policy is better than anything you’ll find independently, even if it doesn’t fit your exact needs.

If you aren’t lucky enough to find a job that provides health insurance, you’ll need to start looking on your own. There are dozens of Web sites that can serve as a guide to insurance policies in your area, and they’re often a good place to start when searching for a plan. The search engine lists available policies based on your age, gender and neighborhood, and that kind of information can be helpful when you get on the phone to check with providers. Make sure to call companies to get clarification on what plans provide and what they cost. Web sites aren’t always updated immediately when insurance providers change rates, so be sure to confirm prices with the actual provider before you go much further.

Be sure to prioritize what you want in a plan before you commit. Prescription coverage, availability of doctors in the area, the quality of those doctors and co-pay when you need to go to a clinic or the hospital are all things to ask about. Make sure to research those things now; when you’re sick and need to go to the doctor, you don’t want to be worried because you don’t have enough cash to cover your co-pay or enough coverage to pay for antibiotics.

Insurance can get pretty expensive, so it’s a good idea to ensure you get the best prices now. One of the simplest ways to make sure your insurance is cheap is being a non-smoker. As a young college graduate, it’s unlikely you’ll undergo any serious emergency care in the near future, so companies offer low rates and compete for your business. Being a smoker negates a lot of that; we all know the risks of smoking, and those same risks make companies a lot less likely to cover you for a low price. The difference is stark enough that quotes go from about $70 per month for a healthy, 20-year-old non-smoker in Radnor Township to $180 if that same person has smoked in the last 12 months.

The message? Quit now. If you’re a junior, you still have time to cash in on the benefits of being young and healthy right after graduation. If you’re a senior, you’re that much closer to lower insurance rates in the future.