As a J-1 Exchange Visitor in the U.S., you are required to carry health insurance for yourself and your J-2 dependents, if applicable, for the full duration of your "J" program. Government regulations stipulate that if, after that date, you willfully fail to carry health insurance for yourself and/or your dependents, your J-1 sponsor must terminate your program, and report the termination to the Department of State (DOS).
If you need information about purchasing insurance, ask your J-1 sponsor about policies available to Exchange Visitors in the U.S. Read the policy information carefully and don't be afraid to ask questions. The OISS maintains a list of health insurance carriers who meet DOS requirements.
How Health Insurance Works
When you purchase health insurance, the money you pay (your premium) is combined with the premiums of others to form a pool of money. That money is then used to pay the medical bills of those participants who need health care. Your coverage remains valid only as long as you continue to pay your insurance premiums.
Once you purchase insurance, the company will provide you with an insurance identification card for use as proof of your coverage when you are seeking health care from a hospital or doctor. The company will also provide written instructions for reporting and documenting medical expenses (filing a claim). The company will evaluate any claim that you file, and make the appropriate payment for coverage under your particular policy. In some cases the company pays the hospital or doctor directly; in others the company reimburses the policy holder after he or she has paid the bills.
The Need for Health Insurance
It is dangerous to be in the U.S. without adequate health insurance. Although in many countries the government bears the expense of health care for its citizens, and sometimes even for visitors, individuals and families in the U.S. are responsible for these costs themselves. Since a single day of hospitalization and medical treatment can cost thousands of dollars, many hospitals and doctors refuse to treat uninsured patients except in life-threatening emergencies. Most Americans rely on insurance, and you should do the same. Insurance gives you access to better and more timely health care, and provides the only protection against the enormous costs of health care in this country.
An agent is an individual who represents one or several insurance companies and sells insurance to individuals and groups. When working with an agent you should feel free to ask questions and take the time to learn about and understand several choices before you make a decision. If you are uncertain or confused, don't sign anything. Consult a knowledgeable friend, or your J-1 sponsor, for help.