So HOW does student health insurance actually work?!

Healthcare and health insurance can be complicated. For many students, college can be the first time they are confronted with how insurance actually works. In this post, we’ll set up the basics around health insurance and review some key terms.

Affordable Ohio Health Insurance
Photo: “Ohio Health Insurance” by Affordable Ohio Health Insurance, Flickr Creative Commons.

How health insurance works

Simply put, health insurance companies pay for some or all of the cost of medical expenses. Exactly how much health insurance pays towards healthcare costs depends on:

  • the insurance plan;
  • the type of visit or procedure; and
  • the provider (e.g., whether or not the provider is in the health insurances’ “network”).

You can get health insurance in a variety of ways:

  • individual health insurance (example: enrolling through a state’s Exchange or Affordable Care Act program)
  • employer insurance (example: entity you work for providers insurance), or
  • student insurance (example: UNC provides an option for students to enroll in a student health care plan).

Breaking down health insurance terms

  • Premium: In essence, this is the price of admission, or what you regularly pay to have your insurance plan (for example: X dollars a month).
  • Co-payment (“co-pay”): An amount of the visit/procedure you pay up-front (for example: paying $20 for a doctor’s visit).
  • Co-insurance: A percentage of a bill the patient is required to pay, after accounting for co-payments, deductibles, and any other discounts.
  • Coverage: The amount the health insurance company pays for each procedure, service or visit. This depends on the health plan, and might be a percentage (for example: 60% of the cost), or may be a fixed amount for certain procedures (for example: will cover 100% of preventative care services). Usually, you can find some basic information on coverage on your insurance card.
  • In-network/ Out-of-network: Insurance companies will have lists of providers that accept their specific insurance brand (“in-network”). This is akin to businesses accepting certain kinds of payment methods: one might take Visa, Mastercard and American Express; while another might only Visa (“out of network” for American Express and Mastercard). How do you find out which providers are in vs. out of network? Health insurance companies usually provide a directory/listing of in-network providers (see below for tips on finding out more about your plan). Or, if you have a specific provider in mind, you can contact them to ask what types of health insurance they accept. Learn whether your insurance is in-network at Campus Health Services here.
  • Explanation of benefits: This is a break-down of the total costs
  • Deductibles: This is a set amount you have to pay each year in medical bills before the health insurance company starts paying. So, for example, if your plan’s deductible is $300, then you have to spend $300 before your health insurance kicks in and starts paying for medical costs. Note that as a general rule, the higher your premium (the cost to have insurance), the lower your deductible.
Photo: “Maze” by Jay, Flickr Creative Commons.

Maximizing your insurance


Insurance plans vary considerably in what they cover, and can be worthwhile to what extent insurance plans cover various visits and procedures. If you are concerned about coverage, cost or confidentiality (if you’re on a shared plan with others), you can contact insurance companies before you visit a provider. To do this:

  • First, check your insurance card, which will usually have information on co-insurance, deductibles, prescription drug coverage, and emergency coverage.
  • For more detailed information, you can often look online to see what your specific plan covers. Many insurance plans have an option to create online accounts, where you can access information on specific plan benefits, and look for “in-network” providers.
  • You can also call the insurance company to inquire about coverage for a specific procedure, visit or prescription drug coverage. The contact information is usually on the card.

Additionally, for UNC Students: more information on UNC’s student health insurance policy, and in-network insurance providers at UNC Campus Health Services can be found on the UNC Campus Health Services website.

Holiday Eating

Here come the holidays, and with them comes stuffing – one of my favorite foods (well, that and chile rellenos, but most Thanksgivings don’t have those on the menu). I make my stuffing with sage, parsley, onions, celery, and of course, bread.  For the vegetarians, ht_crispy_stuffing_jp_121116_msmaybe you stop there, but I like to add a little sausage, and I will leave it up to you to decide whether to “stuff” it, or bake it on the side.  When the delicious stuffing is combined with turkey, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, and the other traditional dishes you may have at your Thanksgiving feast, you might find your plate and your belt sagging a little. So what are you to do? Eat the stuffing. Want more details? Read on…


Food as community. I am a firm believer that food brings people together. Today, many people eat fast food, working lunches, and grab-and-go snacks. Holidays, however, remain one of those sacred times of the year when we can sit down at a table and enjoy a meal with family and friends.  Embrace this opportunity!

Holiday indulgence IS moderation. We indulge during holidays because they are special times; every day is not a holiday. You can indulge every once in a while and enjoy your holiday meals! The trick is to keep indulgence from becoming your norm. Consistent overeating is what causes weight gain; one big meal is not going to make you gain weight, and if we continually limit our caloric intake and count the calories, it can weigh on us (the mind not the body).  Additionally, if you try and make low fat versions of favorite dishes, sometimes you are left wanting, so you may do it again.  If there is ever a time to splurge, it is with family and friends on a special occasion.

Take your time. I don’t know about you, but some holidays I have eaten to the point of becoming very uncomfortable, where the only position that I can possibly be comfortable is lying flat on my back with my pants unbuttoned.  This feeling is no fun, and some of it may be due to the fact that there is about a 10-20 minute lag between the food entering your stomach and your stomach telling your brain that it is full. The time can vary based on the food you are eating. Go slow to give yourself time to digest before you decide whether you’d like a second helping.Plate

Make your plate up right. A whole lot of discomfort could be avoided if we eat what we want but try to stick to the plate rule (seen on the right here). Green bean casserole, salad, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and turkey fit very nicely onto this plate, and maybe you only have only slice of pie instead of two.  Seek to enjoy holiday meals without eating to the point of discomfort.

Incorporate movement into your tradition. Go for a walk with the fam after you have eaten and gotten in a little couch time. A little exercise can help get the blood flowing, get some fresh air into the lungs and make Turkey day that much more enjoyable. In addition, exercise helps your mental health, your stress levels, your metabolism, cardiovascular health, and gets the plaque out of your blood vessels.

The bottom line.  Embrace slow foods, family and friends, and tradition. You don’t have to skip holiday meals or make your holiday meal fat free to stay healthy.  Moderation and adding in a little movement can go a long way.  Eat a little less, walk a little more, and savor the time with the ones you care about.

Thanks to: Antonia Hartley and Sara Stahlman

Another good read:

7 Steps to a Healthier YOU!

We’re a few weeks into the semester Tar Heels and that means you may have settled into a routine: found your favorite fitness class, scoped out the best place to study and make a bee-line to the veggies in the café before filling up on other foods. Or you may be a little overwhelmed: classes are starting to pile on more work, there is little time to balance socializing AND sleeping and you have found the 24-hour Wendy’s to just be too darn convenient.

Whether you are on a roll or are feeling crazed, or you fluctuate day to day, know that there are at least a thousand other students like you going through the same ups and downs. Including me!

So let’s try this together. Here are seven steps you can take to make your life a little more balanced along with resources on campus that can help you get there. Maybe you have already checked some of these off and in that case, you can be pretty proud of yourself! I myself will be trying to get more sleep for the rest of the semester. What steps are you going to take towards a healthier you?

7 steps

Eat Healthy Try filling half of your plate with fruits and vegetables at every meal. This will help you towards a more balanced diet. Would you like to talk through a more tailored nutrition plan? Call Campus Health Services at 919-966-2281 to make an appointment for nutrition counseling.

Get Active Start with 10 minutes of physical activity at a time. This may not seem like much, but every minute counts. And remember, working out doesn’t have to be a chore. Find an exercise you like, such as swimming or bike riding. Or meet someone new at a fun fitness event at Campus Recreation.

Stay Safe Whether you live in a dorm room or an apartment, store your medications in a safe place where others will not be tempted by them. Your medicine was purchased or prescribed for your symptoms only. Have old medications that you don’t use or have passed the expiration date? Bring them to Campus Health Pharmacy to dispose of safely!

Protect Yourself From the Flu The fall is upon us and soon everyone will be sniffling and sneezing their way into winter. The flu is one trend you don’t want to be a part of. Campus Health Services will be administering flu vaccinations (FREE with student health insurance) at drop-in clinics, the pharmacy, or call 919-966-2281 for an appointment.

Quit Smoking Make a list of the reasons why you should quit. Seeing these reasons laid out is an incentive for many smokers. And remember if you don’t make it the first try, each quit attempt is practice for the time when you do quit for good. Both Campus Health physicians and Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) can provide prescriptions to help quit or provide behavioral modifications. To make a CAPS appointment, call 919-966-3658. The Healthy Heels Shoppe also sells cessation aids, such as nicotine gum, lozenges, and patches, with pharmacists available to walk you through your options.

Manage Stress Plan ahead of time to manage your stress levels. Whether for you that means keeping a daily list of to dos, a color coded calendar, or getting your bag organized with all the notebooks and readings you need the night before, find what helps you. If you need someone to talk through some of your stressors, call CAPS at 919-966-3658.

Get Enough Sleep Try to get 7-8 hours of sleep a night. Going to bed even 15 minutes earlier and doing something you enjoy such as reading for pleasure or even deep breathing will help relax you to sleep. Try to put all electronics away half an hour before you go to bed so your brain can wind down. (Also, don’t discount the power of napping!) Need to speak with someone about your trouble sleeping? Make an appointment with a Campus Health Services doctor at 919-966-2281 or a CAPS counselor at 919-966-3658 to help you get a better night’s rest.

For more advice making small changes to achieve a healthier you take this Everyday Healthy Living Quiz.

*Some content for this post was taken from, a website of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

One change that could save your health, time, money, the Earth, and your sanity. For real.

skateboardAny time I’m helping a patient increase physical activity, we always talk about active commuting. Heading to work or class for many folks means hopping in a bus or car. And while I’m all for carpooling and public transportation, there’s a problem: most Americans already sit way more than we need to, and it’s pretty clear that sitting isn’t doing us any favors health wise. [1]

UNC-Chapel Hill researchers have found that active commuting via biking or walking has major health benefits. [2] Active commuting also saves money, saves the environment, and, for some, it can save time. [3] Plus, it’s a mental boost. [4] It’s pretty hard not to bike to work or class without a smile on your face.


For those of you who are intrigued, here are my top five tips for active commuting:


  1. If you’re biking on campus, you’ll need to take two minutes to register your bike with  public safety. Hint: your bike’s serial number is usually on the underside of the frame. Also, check out this public safety website full of recommendations for safer biking.
  2. Think you can’t actively commute because you wear gear that might seem not so conducive to comfort or propriety (i.e. skirts, heels, slacks)? Whatever. After a trip to Amsterdam a few years ago, where I saw people biking in just about anything, I decided it can be done. Roll up your pant leg or use a rubber band. A tip for skirt wearers: lean the bike on its side as you mount it or wear shorts underneath. Easy
  3. How about sweat? You have a few options.  Head to a UNC gym for a shower. Or, since all Chapel Hill buses have super easy bike racks, you could load up your bike and bus it in and then bike home. You could also simply carry a towel or wet wipes and just wipe down.
  4. Don’t have a bike? The Recyclery bike shop in Chapel Hill teaches bicycle repair and maintenance and allows community members to earn a free bike. Pretty cool. Back Alley Bikes or The Bicycle Chain are both local shops that sell bikes. Or try Freecycle or Craigslist for free or cheap rides.
  5. Finally, if you do decide to bike, don’t even think about going helmet-free. You study or work at UNC-Chapel Hill for a reason: you’re smart. Protect your brains, people! Again, check out Freecycle or Craigslist for cheaper options if cost is an issue. And just for fun, drool over this futuristic invisible helmet and these cool bike lights.

Have I convinced you?Commuter Race Pore over this awesome active commuting toolkit, which pretty much addresses any questions or concerns you might have. Signing up for the Cyclicious listserv is also a great way to keep up with local bike events. Also, walking and biking aren’t the only ways to actively commute. Skateboarding or Razor scootering would get the job done, too.

What’s your favorite way to actively commute? Have you noticed any benefits or changes?


[1] Mayo Clinic, “What are the risks of sitting too much?”:

[2] UNC study: People who bike or walk to work are more fit, less fat than drivers:

[3] Active Commuting Toolkit:

[4] Physical Activity in New York City:


With exam season on the way and the end-of-semester paper crunch coming, students will be turning to caffeine to help them make it through the long days (and nights) of work. It’s important to know that caffeine cannot replace sleep, and that your brain works best when you have time to sleep before taking an exam. So plan ahead, prioritize, and get some sleep! Your GPA will thank you. Also, learn more about caffeine by checking out the cool info-graphic below. Click to enlarge. Happy Studying!