Young people may be living with their parents longer these days, but one thing mom and dad can’t help you with is keeping you on their Health Insurance forever. Thanks to Obamacare, you can stay on your parents’ plan until you turn 26. After that, you’re on your own.
And “on your own” can be scary. This year insurers have been dropping out of the marketplace, leaving some people with a single insurer choice, and premiums are going up (a lot, in some places). That means shoppers have to be flexible in terms of what doctors you’ll see and the tradeoff between what’s covered and what you can afford. It means that you have to keep a sharp eye out for ways to save – looking at FSAs and HSAs to supplement your Insurance. It means you have to be willing to shop off-exchange plans for the best deals.
It also means you have to understand what all of those things actually mean.
But the truth is that Health insurance doesn’t really have to be as complicated – or expensive – as it’s made out to be. We’ve got the shopping tools and resources to make it simple to pick out the right plan. You just have to know what you should be looking for first.
Use these four tips to make finding affordable health insurance easier than actually going to the doctor.
Get a catastrophic health care plan
We can all agree that “catastrophic” doesn’t sound all that inviting, but these plans are actually a lot less apocalyptic than they sound. For the exclusive under-30 crowd (or people with a hardship exemption), catastrophic plans are low-cost, high-deductible plans that are an easy way to make insurance affordable.
The deductible on catastrophic plans are equal to the plan’s out-of-pocket max. That means that while you’re paying most of the routine costs yourself, you’re also protected from worst-case scenarios that would normally be, to say the least, a financial hardship.
Even if you don’t qualify for a catastrophic plan, if you’re healthy and usually don’t go to the doctor for more than a routine checkup, you should still shop for plans with low premiums and high deductibles. You’ll pay more when you do go, but you’ll more than likely make up the difference with the lower premium.
Look for health insurance subsidies
Health insurance is mandatory, but the government is pretty good about giving breaks to people who need it. Subsidies make insurance more affordable for people who might have trouble getting it otherwise.
There are three types of subsidies available:
- Premium tax credits lower your premiums.
- Cost sharing reductions lower your copays, deductibles, coinsurance, and out-of-pocket limits.
- Medicaid provides low- or no-cost health coverage based on income qualifiers.
Think you don’t qualify for a subsidy? Well, so do 2.5 million other people who are mistaken. Instead of assuming, use a calculator to see if you qualify and when you’re shopping, make sure you’re looking at on-market plans – they’re the only ones you’ll be able to use subsidies with.
Use free preventative health services
When you’re trying to decide which plan offers you the most coverage for the best price, don’t forget that all plans give some level of free preventative services. They’re legally required to, and you should take advantage of that.
The four main categories these services fall under are:
- Evidence-based screenings and counseling
- Routine immunizations
- Preventative services for children and youth
- Preventative services for women
There are literally dozens of individual services within each of those categories, so when you go to see your doctor, you should ask which services are free and, of those, which are appropriate for you. The main takeaway is that when you’re trying to figure out how much how expensive your health insurance plan needs to be, there are a lot of services that you’ll get no matter the cost.
Enroll during a Special Enrollment Period
You may have heard that the only time you can buy health insurance is during Open Enrollment. If that’s the case, then someone lied to you. You can also apply during Special Enrollment Periods. These include things like getting married, having a baby, or, conveniently, getting kicked off of your parents’ plan.
So what does that mean for you? If you find yourself suddenly 26 and uninsured in, say, March, you don’t have to stay uninsured until November, when Open Enrollment kicks in again. Potentially even more importantly, you don’t have to pay the individual mandate penalty, where you’re essentially paying to not be insured.
It’s important to get your health insurance choice right, because the last thing you want is to be stuck with a plan that costs too much money or provides too little coverage. Luckily, that doesn’t have to be a choice you need to make. If you get the right plan, take advantage of subsidies and services, and enroll at the right time, a broken arm won’t also break the bank.
Colin Lalley writes for PolicyGenius, a digital insurance brokerage trying to make sense of insurance for consumers, where he covers personal finance, insurance, and reducing the risks in life.
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