One of the essential things you can do to avoid financial ruin is to purchase health insurance. Even if you are young and healthy, it’s crucial that you have some health coverage to protect against any type of injury or medical scare.
But health insurance isn’t always cheap. Even low-cost plans can cost you hundreds of dollars a month. In fact, many Americans avoid going to the doctor because they can’t afford to be properly insured.
There are, however, ways to get health insurance at a relatively low cost if you do some research and know where to look.
Affordable Health Insurance Options
1. Go Through Your Employer (Or Spouse’s Employer)
This choice is a no-brainer for anyone who works for a sizable company. If your employer subsidizes the cost of health insurance, you’ll usually get better coverage and pay less than if you were to try and purchase insurance on your own.
In most cases, employers will allow you to buy insurance for not just yourself, but your immediate family.
Employers will often give you a choice between a more robust plan with higher premiums and a lower-cost plan with less coverage or more restrictions. Companies often will offer dental and vision plans, as well as traditional health insurance.
The Kaiser Family Foundation reported that about 152 million people, or half the non-elderly population, receive employer-sponsored insurance. On average, workers contribute about 18% of the premium cost for individual plans and 29% for family coverage.
And workers who received employer-sponsored insurance contributed an average of $5,574 in premiums in 2018, while employers contributed $14,069.
2. Check Heathcare.gov
The Affordable Care Act isn’t perfect. But it has allowed many Americans to access insurance, often at reasonable prices, through a healthcare exchange. You may even qualify for subsidies if your income is below certain levels.
The open enrollment period for 2019 is passed. However, you may be able to still sign up for insurance if you’ve had certain life changes, such as a job loss, having a baby, or getting married.
Healthcare.gov offers tiers of plans (bronze, silver, gold, and platinum) with a variety of monthly premium payments and deductibles. And depending on your income level, you may qualify for subsidies.
Data collected by the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that a married couple with an income of $75,000 would average $749 per month in premium payments for a “silver” plan.
A married couple earning $35,000 per year would qualify for subsidies and pay $204 per month.
Bronze level plans are the cheapest in terms of premiums but don’t offer the most robust coverage.
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In many cases, Healthcare.gov will direct you to a state healthcare exchange, where plans, features, and subsidies may be different. You can find your state’s health exchange here: www.healthcare.gov/marketplace-in-your-state/.
See What Assistance You Qualify For
In addition to potentially qualifying for subsidies, you may be eligible for a variety of federal or state programs designed to reduce your health costs.
If you are an older American (over 65), you can get health coverage through Medicare. If you are disabled or have low income, you may qualify for Medicaid.
Children can receive coverage through the government’s Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) if their families make too much for Medicaid but can’t afford private insurance. There may also be programs at the state and local level.
3. Health Care Sharing Ministries
It is possible to get reasonably priced health insurance through religious groups that share costs among members. These are called health care sharing ministries.
Not all ministries officially qualify as insurance under the provisions Affordable Care Act. To be recognized, these ministries must be a non-profit, must share the same religious or ethical beliefs, can’t discriminate, and must have been formed before the year 2000.
Some health care sharing ministries include:
Christian Healthcare Ministries – Offers plans ranging from $45 to $150 per month, depending on the level of coverage. Members can add catastrophic coverage for additional financial support in the event of a medical problem.
Liberty HealthShare – A group that began as part of the Mennonite Church, Liberty is now open to anyone who signs to follow five statements based on biblical principles.
Samaritan Ministries – Offering “classic” and “basic” plans offering as much as $250,000 worth of coverage. There is no coverage for pre-existing conditions, and they cover prescriptions for only 120 days.
4. Consider a High-Deductible Plan
If you are healthy, you may be able to save money on insurance by agreeing to pay higher deductibles in exchange for lower premiums. So-called high-deductible plans could save you money if you avoid illness or injury, but come with the risk of paying a lot out of pocket if you have bad health news.
The Kaiser Family Foundation reported that the average monthly premium on high-deductible plans in 2018 was $538 for an individual and $1,550 for families. That’s as much as 10% lower than other more traditional plans.
Of course, the tradeoff is that deductibles are much higher than traditional insurance. Many people refer to high-deductible plans as “catastrophic coverage” or “bankruptcy protection.”
The IRS defines any plan with a deductible higher than $1,350 for an individual and $2,700 for a family. If you have a high-deductible plan, your out-of-pocket expenses can’t top more than $6,650 for a single person and $13,300 for a family each year.With high-deductible plans, patients are usually asked to pay for all expenses up front until they meet the deductible. Thus, it may seem like you are paying a lot of out of pocket, even if you are ultimately saving money. Because of the potential for high up-front costs, those with high-deductible plans may want to consider opening a health savings account, which allows you to set aside money on a pre-tax basis to pay for medical expenses.
5. Use a Broker
You may have used an agent or broker to purchase home or auto insurance. Why not try one for health insurance as well?
A health insurance broker is a professional who can help you find the best policy for you at the right price. In some states, they may be required to hold a license and have a fiduciary duty to act in your best interest.
Keep in mind that most brokers work directly with insurance companies and are paid by commission from those firms, not by you. So it’s in your best interest to find a broker that works with multiple companies.
The fact that brokers get paid by commission can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it’s in their best interest to find a plan for you so they can get paid.
On the other hand, they may be inclined to match you with a plan that has extra features and coverage you don’t need, due to the potential for a higher commission.
You can find a broker by searching The National Association of Health Underwriter’s database as well as the Local Help database from HealthCare.gov.
6. Stick With Your Parents
Are you under age 26? If so, there may be no need to stress about shopping for insurance just yet. Under the provisions of the Affordable Care Act, children can remain on their parents’ insurance until age 26.
This option is a huge benefit to young people who may still be in school or just entering the workforce.
If your parents agree to keep you on their policy, they will pay more in premium. But even if they make you pay them back for that difference, you’ll end up paying far less than if you were to seek insurance on the open market or healthcare exchanges.
7. Explore a Student Plan
So you’re off to school. You’ve picked a major, met your roommate and have your class schedule. But do you have coverage in case you get sick at school?
If you are a college student but are unable to remain on your parents’ insurance, you may be eligible for low-cost insurance through your university, or through private companies that offer lower premiums for students. To clarify, some colleges offer health insurance and then lump in the cost with your room and board.
A company called University Health Plans helps administer low-cost health insurance for students at dozens of colleges around the country.