While a full description of the US healthcare system is beyond the scope of this paper, and unnecessary to its purpose, it is helpful to keep a few core concepts in mind when evaluating insurance options for international students.
For those who can afford treatment or have adequate insurance, healthcare in the United States is unparalleled. With trillions of dollars spent each year on healthcare, it’s no secret the US spends more money per capita on health than any other country in the world. This means that international students and US citizens alike have potential access to the world’s largest networks of specialists, hospitals, clinics, and technology, for a price. Researchers have found that the average charge for an emergency room visit in the US is approximately $1,233 - 40% higher than what the average American pays for rent each month . International students especially are generally far from equipped to handle large and often unexpected medical bills.
The United States doesn’t have a nationalized healthcare system and instead expects individuals to purchase health insurance to help cover the majority of their healthcare costs
Unlike many countries around the world, the United States doesn’t have a nationalized healthcare system and instead expects individuals to purchase health insurance to help cover the majority of their healthcare costs, or pay for these services out of pocket. Many international students are accustomed to their governments covering their medical treatment costs, which can cause confusion when trying to evaluate their insurance options in the United States.
There are many ways to seek treatment in the United States, including traditional providers like urgent care centers, walk-in clinics, student health centers, private doctor’s offices and hospitals, with additional hybrids appearing constantly. Many students are not familiar with all of the different types of providers, which can easily cause confusion. Some international students are accustomed to using the ER for everything, even a minor illness; try that in the US and you will wait a long time, and pay a lot of money.
The US healthcare system was not designed on the idea that individuals would pay out-of-pocket for their healthcare. It’s assumed that you have health insurance, show your insurance card to seek treatment, pay a co-pay of some kind and then expect a follow-up bill for any uncovered costs. Without insurance, even being seen by some providers can be difficult, and if you are able to seek treatment, it will be much more expensive. Insurance companies also work closely with providers to agree upon deeply discounted rates and help their members receive medical care for a fraction of the cost. With this in mind, a hospital may traditionally charge $800 for a given treatment, but will only charge a contracted insurance company $300 for the same services. Without health insurance, an international student could easily be left with the entire $800 bill.
Providers in the US are used to taking a small payment from the patient at the time of service, and directly billing the insurance company for the remaining portion. This system really simplifies the billing process for patients and allows international students to be more comfortable when seeking care in an unfamiliar country.