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5 health insurance tips for college grads Posted: May 29th, 2012

By Barbara Marquand

If you're a new college graduate, worries about landing the right job and repaying student loans mean finding good health insurance might not be on your radar screen.

But it should be.

Just one trip to the emergency room or a bout with a serious illness could bury you in medical debt for years. Getting insured is important.

Here are five tips for getting health coverage post-graduation.

1. Consider getting on your parents' health plan

Under the federal health care reform law, you can stay on your parents' employer-sponsored health plan in most cases until you turn 26. This is a good option if you have health conditions that would make qualifying for individual health insurance difficult.

2. Check out short-term health insurance plans

Got a job with health insurance benefits? Congratulations. But typically you face a one- to three-month waiting period after you start before the benefits kick in, so you'll need coverage in the meantime. Short-term plans offer coverage for up to 11 months. Make sure you can drop coverage at any time without penalty if you think you'll be covered through an employer soon.

3. Compare health insurance quotes

When shopping for individual medical insurance, get health insurance quotes from several carriers to find the best plan for you at the right place.

4. Weigh out-of-pocket costs

Besides comparing premiums, check how much your out-of-pocket costs would be under various plans. Generally, the higher the deductible -- the amount you pay out of pocket before insurance kicks in -- the lower the cost of coverage. Also check the amounts for co-payments (usually a flat fee for each doctor visit) and for co-insurance (a percentage you pay toward treatment after the deductible is satisfied).

Keep in mind that most health insurance plans now must fully cover preventive care, such as birth control, annual physicals and certain screenings. That means you pay nothing out of pocket for those services.

Higher out-of-pocket costs aren't necessarily a bad thing if they allow you to save a bundle on premiums. A high-deductible plan might be the way to go if you're healthy and are unlikely to need a lot of medical care.

5. Check the provider network

Make sure the provider network includes doctors and hospitals you want to use. Don't buy a plan with a network limited to a particular region if you plan to move soon. Consider a plan with a national network if you're not sure where you'll be living within the next year.

Overwhelmed? Work with an independent insurance agent to get help comparing plans. Independent agents can show you plans from different carriers. By contrast, captive agents work exclusively for one insurance company.