Overview of US Health Care
We want you to feel comfortable accessing care when you need it and making health care choices that are right for you. We hope this introduction to the way health care works in the U.S. will help.
How medicine is practiced
The focus of medicine in the United States is on identifying the biomedical cause of health problems. Health care providers use the results of medical tests (e.g. laboratory, x-ray) and your description of the symptoms to identify the cause of your health problem. Once a diagnosis is made (often through a process of ruling out other causes), a treatment is prescribed to address the problem area.
Preventive care involves taking certain precautions to protect your well-being through healthy practices like exercise, diet, sleep, routine screening for certain illnesses or conditions, personal hygiene, immunizations, public sanitation, and other health promotion practices.
For most illnesses and injuries the sooner you receive health care after noticing symptoms of illness, the more quickly you can recover; and the less likely you will be to develop complications or more severe health conditions.
Levels of care
In the US, there are several levels of health care available for your assistance, depending upon the nature and severity of your health concern or problem, these include:
- Primary Care: For most illnesses, injuries and preventive health care, people usually go first to their primary care provider. For students at UDC, University Health Services is your primary care provider for medical needs for students with the university-sponsored health insurance plan. University Health Services provides many of the same services that a health practitioner or family doctor in your home country offered. We provide services to all students regardless of their type of insurance plan for most acute and urgent care services at no cost. Our Counseling Center is available to meet students’ mental health needs at no cost.
- Specialized Care: University Health Services provides very limited specialty medical services on campus (sexual health care, laboratory, allergy shots (if medication ordered and supplied by your physician), and pharmacy); helps you access specialists (such as dermatologists, obstetricians, orthopedic physicians) and resources in the community when you require this level of health care.
- After-hours Urgent Care: When urgent health concerns arise after University Health Services’ regular working hours, students may contact local urgent care centers in the community for consultation and care. Learn about the Convenient Care at Unity Health Care, a local walk-in clinic that provides outpatient care for illnesses and injuries for people in the DC area, including students and their families.
- Emergency Care: For life-threatening health problems (such as heart attack, serious traumatic injuries, breathing problems, high fever, serious burns, or alcohol poisoning), you can go directly to the Emergency Department or Call 911. An ambulance should only be used when emergency medical procedures may be required in route to the hospital. The fee charged for an ambulance may be several hundred dollars, and will be covered by health insurance only for a serious health problem. For urgent, but non-life-threatening health problems, there are less expensive forms of transportation available if you do not have access to a car. If you are on campus and after health services regular working hours please contact the Office of Campus Safety at 202-274-5050.
- Hospitalization: Many local medical centers in the area offer a variety of inpatient and outpatient services including: surgery; behavioral health (mental health) services; child birth options, comfort management for mothers and new babies; pediatric care for sick children; and a medical rehabilitation unit for people recovering from major trauma, head injury, and stroke.
The cost of health care
Unlike countries with nationalized health care, fees are charged for all health services in the U.S. Generally speaking, the most reasonable or least expensive way to receive high quality health care is through your primary health care provider or University Health Services on campus. The cost of health care provided at each level up from that increases incrementally with “emergency care and hospital care” being the most costly. Having health insurance is essential for students, their spouses/partners, and their children to help cover these costs and to protect your financial security. For more information, see “Health Insurance in the U.S.” above.
Health Insurance in the U.S.
Health insurance in the United States is complicated—for citizens and non-citizens alike—but the staff at University Health Services are available to help. Here, we provide answers to common questions about health insurance in the United States.
Q. How does health insurance work in the US?
A. Health insurance usually provides coverage for a portion of an individual’s health care expenses and the individual pays for the rest. Insurance plans may charge a “co-pay” or set fee, use a percentage (for example, in an 80-20 plan, the insurance company pays 80% of the cost, the individual pays 20%), or a combination of methods to determine how much you owe. Many plans have a “deductible,” which is the amount a person has to pay for expenses before the insurance company will begin covering costs. Plans may also have “exclusions,” which are injuries, illnesses, or other conditions for which a health insurance policy does not provide any coverage at all. For more information, please review this Overview of US Health Insurance and Care for International Students, provided by the NAFSA Association of International Educators.
Q. How does the Student Health Insurance Plan (SHIP) work?
A. The university-sponsored Student Health Insurance Plan (SHIP) at UDC, is available to all international students, features a “managed care” approach and is considered an excellent value, providing comprehensive coverage for health care. SHIP meets or exceeds all F-1 and J-1 visa requirements, as well as the health insurance standards of the U.S. Affordable Care Act and the American College Health Association.
SHIP provides different levels of coverage. The level of coverage depends on whether care provided is participating or non-participating and, if participating, whether care is provided in area or out of area. To get the most out of your health insurance, it’s important to know the rules before you need to start using it. Please take the time to read the information and ask questions. When services are received at University Health Services (UHS) there is no co-pay or co-insurance. The SHIP covers 100% of the visit including laboratory tests at UHS.
Q. What health care expenses are students responsible for?
A. Students enrolled in the SHIP pay co-pay for most appointments with a health care provider or mental health counselor at in-network participating provider with United Health Care, the plan administrator. Most other charges are covered by the Student Health Insurance Plan at a percentage, keeping the bills you have to pay to a minimum. For detailed information about what SHIP pays for, review the plan brochure and feel free to talk with one of the helpful representatives at the First Student – United Health Care Student Resources at 1.800.505.4160.
Q. What if a student cannot afford needed health care?
A. Please do not let financial concerns be a barrier to receiving needed health care. Talk with your health care provider or a member of the University Health Services staff (202.274.5030) who will help you consider your options.
A Division Student Development & Success
Building 44, Room A-40
202.274.5411 (Confidential Faxes)
Fall, Spring & Summer
Mon - Fri: 8:30am - 5pm
Wed: 8:30am - 6pm