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Second Opinion is a weekly Q-and-A series that answers questions from San Diegans on the Affordable Care Act. Ask yours here.

The Question: Can families with college students mix and match health plans in the state-run insurance exchange?

Michelle Huffaker is a web designer and mother of three. She and her husband are sending their first daughter Shelby off to UC Santa Barbara this year, and they’re really excited. Huffaker and Shelby were taking inventory of the purple dorm furnishings they bought when we visited their University City home last week.

But the big move is also complicating Huffaker’s plan to sign her family up for health insurance through the state-run insurance exchange, Covered California.

By John Rosman, KPBS

Here’s her question.

“My question is, I’d like to register my family for the health exchange, but my daughter is going off to college and requires a different health insurance plan than the rest of my family. So I’m wondering, how does that impact my family?”

The Huffakers would have to pay additional fees on top of tuition for the college health plan. They think they might get a better deal through Covered California, but they’d have to put Shelby on one plan and the four still in San Diego on another because the regions don’t have the same providers.

Huffaker doesn’t know if she can purchase a patchwork of plans, or if it would make financial sense.

The Takeaway: The Huffakers can’t mix and match plans.

The Huffakers can’t bundle two different plans to build their family insurance policy, said Covered California spokeswoman Ann Gonzales. Plans in different regions come with different price tags, and each insurance provider has to be paid separately. Logistically, it just wouldn’t work.

Gonzales said Covered California is reviewing its policy on the issue, noting that it impacts more than just college students. Parents who live in different areas and have joint custody of their children, for instance, could be impacted.

That doesn’t mean Shelby can’t participate in the exchange, though. She could take out an individual plan with Covered California. Gonzales said she could potentially qualify for federal subsidies based on the family’s income that puts the premium below the cost of the college plan.

Either way, Shelby’s situation will not impact subsidies for her parents’ and siblings’ plans. The discount is calculated by household income and the number of dependents her parents have. As long as the Huffakers claim Shelby on their taxes, she’ll factor into their premium costs, Gonzales said.

The Orders: Shop around.

The Huffakers should pull out a calculator and compare the cost of the school’s insurance with the plans on Covered California. Plans for a young adult in Santa Barbara start at $122 a month.

Check out last week’s Second Opinion: How Do Undocumented Parents Cover Their Citizen Kids?

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Megan Burks

Megan Burks is a reporter for Speak City Heights, a media project of Voice of San Diego, KPBS, Media Arts Center and The AjA Project. You can contact her...

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