BY Margaux Buridant Vice President, Senior International Wealth Strategist, Bank of the West

Jan 13th 2020

International Perspectives

Navigating Health and Education Options in the US

When it comes to health and education, you want the best for your family. Learn how to weigh all of the options.

Jan 13th 2020

When it comes to healthcare and education in the US, there are lots of choices to consider. With so many options, you should be able to find schools and health plans that meet your family’s specific needs. But lots of options also means lots of decisions, so it pays to understand the system when you begin your search. Here’s a quick overview to help you when you first arrive.

Healthcare: How to Pick the Best Plan for You

In the US, there are different healthcare networks and plans, which may be accessed either through your employer or through state or federal exchanges. The plan and network you choose will affect choices like which doctors you can see at which hospitals, how much you can expect to pay for individual visits, and how much your maximum expense per year will be.

To figure out which plan is right for your family, you’ll want to review the summary of benefits provided to you by your employer or your insurance provider to see what services the plan covers and what the associated costs are. Make sure to consider your specific health situation as you review the options.

Here are some questions you may consider asking your insurer or healthcare provider when making your choice:

  • I take a certain medication. How is that covered under this plan?
  • Which maternity services are covered?
  • What happens if I get sick when traveling abroad?
  • How do I get started signing up, and what documents will I need?
  • How are plans structured? Can I add partners/spouses or dependents?
  • What out-of-pocket costs am I responsible for?
  • Do these plans offer optional eye care or dental coverage?

Understanding the Costs in Your Plan

Whether English is your first language or your sixth, you’ll find a whole new vocabulary in the descriptions of healthcare plans. Here’s some of the key terminology and what it means to you:

  • A premium: This is the fee paid to your insurance company each month. You would pay this fee even if you don’t use medical services that month.
  • A co-pay: Many types of care may also require that you pay a co-payment at the time of service, either as a percentage of the cost or a fixed fee.
  • A deductible: Each year, you may be required to pay a set amount of money toward care before your insurance starts covering on your behalf.
  • Coinsurance: After you have paid your deductible, most plans may only cover up to a certain percentage of the residual cost. The remainder is called “coinsurance,” which may be required to be paid by the patient.
  • An out-of-pocket limit: This is the maximum amount of additional money (on top of your monthly premium) you might need to pay in any given year.

The details are fairly complicated, but the principle behind them is simple: Generally, a higher monthly premium carries a lower deductible and out-of-pocket limit, whereas a lower monthly premium typically carries a higher deductible and out-of-pocket limit. You’ll have to consider your situation to decide which end of the spectrum makes the most sense for you.

And if you’re not satisfied in your first year, keep in mind there’s an open enrollment period every year when you may choose to stick with what you have or choose a different option for the year ahead.

With a little research and persistence, you can pick the best path for your family.

Education and Childcare: All the Options, From Preschool to PhD

As with healthcare, the educational options in the US are extensive. Before age five, childcare and preschools might not be paid for by the state. If you have young children, you may want to consider these possibilities:

Preschool and Daycare Centers

Preschools and daycare centers have employees trained in providing care and education to children. It’s recommended that parents visit and research any facilities they are considering to ensure proper licensing and lawful operation status before enrolling their children.

Family and In-Home Care Providers

As an alternative to daycare centers, some parents may choose to keep their children in a more familiar home environment under the supervision of only one caregiver.

Once your children reach school age, they’ll be ready to begin formal education. In the US, children usually enroll in school at age five or six, in kindergarten or first grade. After that, they advance one grade every year until 12th grade, which students typically enter at the age of 17. After graduating from high school, students can advance to a trade school, college, or university, where it generally takes four years to earn a bachelor’s degree. From there, some students continue on to graduate programs in pursuit of a master’s degree, professional credential, or doctorate.

Public Schools

All children are eligible to receive a free public education from age 5 to 18, spanning elementary school, middle school or junior high, and high school. In the US, individual states set their own educational standards and play a big part in structuring and funding public schools. But the main area of control takes place at the local level, in individual school districts.

If you choose to send your child to public school, it’s a good idea to learn about the local district when you search for a home. A local real estate agent can often provide excellent insight, and there is also information available online.

Private Schools

You may prefer a private school over the state public school system, and you should be able to find numerous options wherever you choose to live. Be aware that tuition fees can be significant in private schools, depending on the curriculum, reputation, and location of the school. The average tuition cost for a private school is around $10,000 per year, but some schools can charge $25,000 or more. You can find more information about private schools in your area here.

Although the many options for healthcare and education can seem intimidating, with a little research and persistence you can pick the best path for your family, and rest easy knowing their health and education are well taken care of.


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