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How to Size Up Health Coverage for College Freshmen

 Health clinics and insurance plans vary widely from college to college. Some campuses offer only basic primary care, while others have a broad array of specialists on staff, from gynecologists to orthopedists. Insurance plans at some colleges cover claims of as much as $1 million a year, while others have limits of just $50,000 or less.

For most people, health-coverage details won't play a significant role in where students decide to attend school. But as campus visits heat up in coming months ahead of application deadlines for the next academic year, it's worth paying attention to how a school's health center works and what its insurance plan covers. Such factors could play a big role in students' well-being and expenses during their college years.

College students are a unique population with special needs and serious potential risks. They are for the most part young and healthy. But many students are for the first time away from their parents for an extended period. Some may be exposed to risky behaviors—sex, drinking, drugs. Stress and lack of sleep can adversely affect health, too.

Many colleges require students to demonstrate that their parental coverage meets certain standards before they can waive purchase of the school-sponsored plan. Cindy McGahey, director of finance and administration at the University of New Hampshire's health services, says that when parent plans miss the mark, it's most often because they lack prescription-drug or mental-health coverage—both of which are required under her waiver criteria.

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