Image courtesy of International Student Insurance

Understanding the United States Healthcare System

If you’re a new international student or you’ve been studying in the United States for a while, you will find this video extremely helpful in understanding the U.S. healthcare system!

Some of the best healthcare in the world can be found in the United States, but it is expensive and can be hard to understand.

There is no “universal” healthcare in the United States, also referred to as “national” healthcare. Americans purchase their own insurance with a private insurance company either on their own or through an employer. As an international student, you will need to do the same. Either on your own or through your university.

If you visit a hospital, doctor, or clinic the U.S. government has no role in covering the cost of your visit. It is up to you or your insurance company to pay the bills!

Even if you have insurance, you may still end up paying some of the costs out of your pocket. We know, it’s weird, right? The insurance plan will probably cover the majority of the costs, but you will still have to pay money out of your pocket during these visits. It’s just the way the system is in the States. Believe us, there are Americans who don’t even understand the system.

But don’t feel hopeless! There are ways to understand how insurance works.

We found this video provided by International Student Insurance to be very helpful in starting to learn about how to navigate healthcare in the U.S. Please take a moment to watch!

This video teaches international students how to prepare for their arrival in the U.S, how the U.S
healthcare system works and how students should seek medical care appropriately if they become sick
or injured.
Please visit for more information.
International Student Stories  

If you’re still not convinced having insurance is a good idea, we suggest you read these real-life stories from international students:

chuchu xu_640x480Chuchu Xu, China

“It was my second year in the United States when I chipped my front tooth in an accident. I went to the Student Health Services (SHS) on campus, showed the receptionist my insurance card, and met with a nurse, who suggest me take a tetanus shot and visit an off-campus dental center later to get further treatment.

After I got a tetanus shot, the nurse wrote me a written transcription of medication which I obtained at the SHS pharmacy. The Tetanus shot was $79 and the prescription charge was $80, but because the SHS was a preferred provider under the insurance company, both of the charges were reduced. I only paid $10 for the prescription and the insurance covered the rest.

Since Chuchu had insurance, she only had to pay $10 instead of $159 for her visit.
Since Chuchu had insurance, she only had to pay $10 instead of $159 for her tetanus shot.

About a week later, I went to the off-campus dental center to get my chipped front tooth replaced. After a two-month treatment, I could finally smile with my mouth open again. But since my insurance didn’t cover the dental part, I had to pay the total cost all by myself.”

Total Dental Cost: $4,980 

Costs covered dental exam, dental x-ray, root canal, crown materials and treatment, dental implant, and other associated expenses.

SUMMARY: health insurance helped cover the majority of the cost for the tetanus shot, but since DENTAL is not covered in most insurance plans, Chuchu had to pay out of pocket.

Tomas1Tomas Uribe, Colombia 

“It all started on a sunny Fall morning when it happened. We used to meet up every Sunday to randomly team up and play some soccer, or old-­fashioned football as some call it. Imagining a slow motion sequence in a very Kill Bill fashion,I jumped to receive the ball with my chest in a very clumsy manner, and knowing my fate didn’t look very attractive in that fraction of a second, I landed on my right leg, amplifying an indescribable cracking sound all the way up to my inner ear, letting me know my anterior cruciate ligament was completely torn.

It’s worth saying that two months before this event, I waived my school’s recommended health insurance –Aetna– due to the elevated costs I refused to pay, and bought a cheaper, more accessible international student health insurance–ISOA. At a third of a price, I was covered with this new insurance and my school accepted this equivalency. My school’s health services office is very convenient, and thankfully, they gave me crutches, painkillers, and several phone numbers to get in touch with a knee specialist. One by one, doctors informed me they didn’t take my insurance, or that my coverage was too low. Frustration was the only adjective that could define that Monday morning.

Finally, one doctor accepted me (and recommended my future surgeon). Summing up, I had a successful ACL reconstruction surgery, excellent medical attention, have a great physical therapist, and looking forward to tell this story to anyone I can. I was lucky given my situation as an international student; since every doctor acknowledged the difficult situation I was in. I also found out about an emergency fund my school offers to students’ special needs. And last but not least, the incredible support of family and friends.”

SUMMARY: Though Tomas had insurance, most doctors refused to treat him because his insurance coverage was too low. Luckily, he found a doctor who took him but he still had to pay several costs. “If any advice can be offered, do not take your health for granted.”


Take the Time to Understand Your Policy!

We’re not going to lie. The language is going to be hard to understand. You’re going to see words you didn’t even know existed. Here are some examples:

Copayment (Copay) – The amount you pay to a healthcare provider at the time you receive services. You may have to pay a copay for each covered visit to your doctor, depending on your plan. Not all plans have a copay.

Deductible – The amount you pay for your healthcare services before your health insurer pays. Deductibles are based on your benefit period (typically a year at a time). Learn about deductibles here.
Example: If your plan has a $2,000 annual deductible, you will be expected to pay the first $2,000 toward your healthcare services. After you reach $2,000, your health insurer will cover the rest of the costs.

PPO (Preferred Provider Organization) – A type of insurance plan that offers more extensive coverage for the services of healthcare providers who are part of the plan’s network, but still offers some coverage for providers who are not part of the plan’s network. PPO plans generally offer more flexibility than HMO plans, but premiums tend to be higher.

Learn more key words found in insurance plans by clicking here.

Recommended Insurance Company for International Students 

If you need to find insurance while studying in the United States, we recommend International Student Protection (ISP). ISP has been a proud supporter of ISV Magazine since 2011 and provide affordable, high quality coverage. You can learn more about plans provided by ISP by visiting

ISP logo updated2 copy

There are several other insurance companies that provide coverage for international students. Your university may require you to purchase insurance with a certain company or you may have the choice of selecting your own company. Either way, it’s worth the time to do your homework and read through your policy.

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