Whether you’re self-employed, unemployed, or covered through your employer’s health plan, finding cheap health insurance in the United States can be a frustrating and time-consuming process. Add the controversy over the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and finding accurate and reliable information can become a problem.
Sure, there is cheap health insurance, but qualifying is also difficult, and you need to make sure the coverage isn’t too scant to meet your needs. Therefore, we will explain how to find cheap health insurance in the United States.
In this article, we’ll discuss the true costs of not having health insurance, what healthcare reform means to you, and give you some tips to help you get the best deal on health coverage.
Remember: No matter what your health insurance needs are, it’s always worth shopping around.
The cost and dangers of not having health insurance
It’s probably a myth that medical bills are the leading cause of home bankruptcies (some research puts it as low as 4%). However, everyone agrees that if you are in too much financial debt, and you also have a huge medical expense, you will be in big trouble.
The ACA Affordable Care Act has been in controversy for years, in part because of the required fee. Regardless of how we feel about the ACA, though, we‘ll probably all agree that it’s a good idea to have health insurance.
By the way, by not having an insurance policy, when the Affordable Care Act was originally passed, you had to pay a penalty tax precisely for not having health coverage, unless you meet certain exemption criteria, including financial hardship.
You might think, “Well, I’ll put money away each month in my savings account in case I have to go to the doctor.” That may work for you for a while, but what if you break your leg, for example? The average cost to fix a broken leg, according to HealthCare.gov, is $7,500. And if you stay in the hospital for three days it will probably cost you $30,000.
How to find cheap health insurance in the United States?
It is illegal for providers to charge different prices for the same health plans. So finding low-cost health insurance is more about making sure you’ve evaluated all your options from the widest range of providers possible. It is also important that you know what your needs are before you buy.
Remember that the cheapest plans often offer the least coverage and only you can decide if it’s worth saving a few bucks.
1. Check everything
Although convenient, the state exchanges established through the ACA are not your only avenues for finding cheap health insurance in the United States. You have other options, and you have nothing to lose (except money) by checking out one or all of them.
a) How to find cheap health insurance in the United States through insurance companies
Insurers may have a wider range of policies available on their websites than we find on state exchanges. Most will allow you to directly compare plan details, view more detailed information, and apply online. Of course, you won’t be able to see other providers’ options, so it may not be your best option for saving money unless you know which company you want to do business with.
b) How to find cheap health insurance in the United States through an agent
An insurance agent might be a good option if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the decision and think you need expert help to get the right health insurance.
There are two main types of insurance agents: “Captive” agents offer products through a single company, while independent agents (also called brokers) can help you choose a plan from multiple insurers.
If savings is your ultimate goal, it probably makes more sense to work with an independent agent who can find and compare more options. But if you’re determined to work with a certain company, a captive agent can get to know their products better.
c) How to find cheap health insurance in the United States through online insurance
Online insurance search engines like HealthInsurance are similar to independent agents, without the personal touch. After you answer a few questions, you’ll be offered plans from various carriers that may include options not listed in your state’s marketplace.
If this alternative doesn’t allow you to get the affordable health insurance you’re looking for, you can also check Plan Finder, a website offered by HealthCare.gov. The website will help you find plans with private health insurers that are not on the Health Insurance Marketplace.
2. Check if you qualify for special programs
Medicare, Medicaid, and CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program) provide low-cost, federally subsidized health care for those who qualify.
Medicare, the best known of all, is specifically for those over 65, while Medicaid is for those with very low incomes. CHIP is for children (and, in some cases, their families) who don’t qualify for Medicaid and can’t otherwise afford to buy insurance.
The easiest way to determine eligibility is to apply for health plans through your state’s health insurance marketplace. If you are eligible, you can enroll in Medicaid and CHIP at any time of the year.
There’s another scenario where you might be able to get coverage if you haven’t signed up for open enrollment. You may be eligible for a Special Enrollment Period. This happens after certain life events like losing health coverage, moving, getting married, having a baby, or adopting a child. But if this happens, you’ll need to apply within 60 days of that event, otherwise, you’ll have to wait until the next open enrollment period.
3. Make sure COBRA is worth it
The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, better known as COBRA, allows you to stay on your employer’s insurance plan for up to 18 months when you would otherwise lose coverage, usually through being fired. But on the other hand, it is also a very expensive way to stay insured. Again, instead of sharing health insurance costs with your employer, you’ll be paying for the entire plan.
According to the 2017 Kaiser Family Foundation report, the average monthly premium for a single person (no spouse or children) is $558. The average premium for people who qualify for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, meaning they are receiving subsidies and/or tax credits, is about $89 per month (about 85 percent of Americans are eligible for subsidies). But let’s say you’re not eligible for subsidies or tax credits. Your average monthly payment would be $440, according to eHealth.com.
Of course, COBRA can be advantageous if you need to maintain access to providers not available in other plans, or if you know you have a large medical expense ahead of you and have already met your deductible for the year. Be sure to weigh these factors when comparing costs.
4. Ask your parents about staying on their plan
If you’re under 26, the ACA allows you to stay on your parent’s health insurance plan. Even if you pay your parents your fair share, it might be your cheapest option.
You can take advantage of this option even if you are married or financially independent from your parents. Just confirm that your parent’s insurer offers in-network providers where you live; out-of-network costs can quickly add up and eat into your savings.
5. Consider high-deductible or “catastrophic” plans
If you don’t anticipate using your health plan much, high-deductible plans with lower monthly premiums might be the way to go.
Under the ACA, you’re eligible for low-premium catastrophic plans if you’re under 30, or if you’re over 30 but qualify for a hardship exemption. (Hardship exemptions include more serious financial circumstances, such as homelessness, recent eviction, and bankruptcy, get the full list at healthcare.gov.
A catastrophic plan entitles you to three primary care doctor visits per year, prescription coverage, and other essential benefits. However, you’ll have to pay out of pocket for any medical care outside of those parameters until you hit a staggeringly expensive deductible: $7,900 in 2019. Insurers also have a range of high-deductible plans available directly through their websites.
Even if you pay low premiums with a catastrophic or high-deductible plan, experts say only those who are young and in excellent health should consider these plans. And make sure you have a way to meet the high deductible if you need to; otherwise, your cheap plan can be very expensive if you need care that isn’t covered.
You should know that catastrophic plans are not eligible for the subsidies that apply to other plans. If you’re eligible for subsidies, remember that the savings can make up most of the difference in cost between catastrophic plans and high-deductible bronze plans, sometimes making bronze or even silver more affordable because of better coverage.
NOTE: In case this information helps you make a decision, most people do not choose catastrophic coverage; less than 1% of people enrolled in the health insurance exchange select it.
One more tip, consider opening a health savings account (HSA) if you opt for a high-deductible plan, often called high-deductible health plans (HDHPs). You can keep the money in an HSA completely tax-free to help pay for health care. Individuals can contribute up to $3,500 in 2019 as long as they are enrolled in a health care plan with a deductible of at least $1,350.
If you don’t use the funds at the end of the year, don’t worry, they can roll over to the next year. Some financial advisors even recommend using HSAs as a tax-advantaged supplemental retirement accounts.
6. Be wary of short-term plans
Short-term or temporary health insurance plans, which usually last three months but can be renewed, are probably the cheapest option of all. How cheap? At Health Insurance, they advertise plans for as low as $75 a month. You can even get short-term plans at HealthInsurance for as low as $77.80 a month. But before you get too excited, read on.
These plans are also your only option if you’re looking for health coverage outside of open enrollment and don’t have a qualifying event that makes you eligible for special enrollment. But before you opt for a short-term plan to save money, be aware of the risks that come with these basic policies.
First, the protections offered by the ACA do not apply here. This means that if you have pre-existing conditions, short-term plan providers may not cover you, and if you become seriously ill, you may not be able to renew your plan. And because short-term plans don’t qualify as adequate coverage under the ACA, you’ll still be hit with the same tax penalties that people who don’t have any health coverage must pay.
Second, you should know how little coverage is in short-term plans. Unlike ACA-approved catastrophic plans, preventive care, including immunizations and physicals, probably won’t be covered. The plans also come with a lifetime limit on care, unlike regular health insurance, so you could be left without coverage in the event of a very serious injury or illness.
They’re also not HSA eligible, and if at some point you end up needing significant coverage, you could be left without a lot of money thanks to a high deductible. You’ll hear someone say Remember that insurance plan I found for $77.80? He had a deductible of $12,500.
Bottom line: There are many limitations to short-term plans, and these plans have many critics. Although they may be your cheapest option, they won’t really be low-cost long-term health insurance, you may end up spending a lot more than you bargained for, and experts don’t recommend them except as a last resort. Otherwise, a low-cost catastrophic, bronze or even silver plan will offer a better affordable health insurance option.
Where can I buy health insurance?
You can buy individual health insurance, which is a plan that you buy on your own. An individual plan can cover a single person or a family. You can buy it directly from the best health insurance companies or from your state’s health insurance marketplace, also called an exchange.
When it comes to purchasing your own insurance, the process is more complicated than simply selecting a plan from the company and having the premium payments come directly from your salary each month.
How to Find Cheap Health Insurance in America (Analysis of the Affordable Care Act)
Whatever your stance on healthcare reform, there’s no denying that the ACA has given the uninsured a new choice. The legislation behind the new health insurance exchanges aims to make affordable health insurance available to everyone, regardless of pre-existing conditions that traditionally make plans too expensive (or keep them out of reach). completely). It also prohibits insurers from dropping you because you get sick, and ends lifetime and annual plan limits on essential care.
Some states have their own health insurance exchanges, others use the federal exchange, and some have a hybrid.
As we mentioned, if you’re considering coverage under the ACA, act fast: You must sign up by December 15 if you want coverage beginning January 1. If you miss that deadline, you won’t be able to enroll for the rest of the year unless you meet special criteria, like having a baby, getting married, or losing other qualifying health insurance.
What types of health insurance plans are available through the ACA Marketplace?
The plans are classified into four levels: bronze, silver, gold, and platinum. They cover around 60%, 70%, 80%, and 90% of your health costs, respectively. This means that, of course, you would pay 40%, 30%, 20% and 10% of the costs), with higher premiums attached to higher percentages.
Catastrophic plans that cover less than 60% of costs have the cheapest premiums of all but are only available if you’re under 30 or qualify for a hardship waiver that waives the uninsured fee.
Is coverage cheaper through the Marketplace?
There’s no guarantee that you’ll find cheaper health plans through the ACA Marketplace than elsewhere, such as directly through insurer websites.
In general, you’re more likely to find low-cost health insurance through the marketplace if you’ve been a high-risk customer for insurers in the past—that is, if you’re older or have known health problems. You may also be able to find more affordable health insurance through the marketplace if your income qualifies for subsidies that help keep your costs down.
On the other hand, you may not be impressed with the marketplace options if you’re younger, in good health, or don’t qualify for subsidies. Click here to see if you are eligible for health subsidies.
How to find cheap health insurance in the United States (additional tips)
Here are some important points to remember as you shop for affordable health care coverage:
Cheap health insurance is not always cheap
You probably realized this when we talked about catastrophic health insurance, but don’t just look at the monthly premium when trying to figure out which plan you want . You have to look at copays, the amount of money you will pay when you go for a routine doctor visit. What’s the most you’ll spend in a year (your annual out-of-pocket maximum) if you end up using your health insurance a lot?
You must read the fine print, which, once you understand it, may not be so convenient. Perhaps, for example, there are certain expenses that are not included in the deductible. You may not have full dental coverage, or there may be no dental coverage at all. And so on. Cheap health insurance could be so cheap that it is practically useless to you.
Think about the type of plan you want
There are several options, on the one hand, there is the Preferred Provider Organization, a PPO, and a Health Maintenance Organization plan, an HMO. On the other hand, there is an Exclusive Provider Organization (EPO) and a Point of Service (POS) Plan, as well as a Catastrophic Plan, which we have covered. What is the difference? Well, simply put, PPOs tend to have more flexibility as to which doctor and hospital you can use (and have your insurance pay for it), and HMOs lack that flexibility (you can only see certain doctors and hospitals within your insurer’s network).
HMOs are cheaper, but there are more restrictions on coverage. For example, if you want to see a specialist, you will usually need a referral from your GP. Many people tend to complain about those referrals because it means an extra visit and copay to a doctor, and if you’re in pain, it’s extra time you spend without getting treatment from a specialist. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have an HMO. It’s just something you have to think about.
An EPO is similar to an HMO in that you’ll need to go to the doctors and hospitals in its network, but you won’t need a referral. So if you like HMOs but hate the idea of having to ask for a referral, an EPO may be a good option for you, though beware of high deductibles. EPOs, by the way, are not very common.
An EPO is also somewhat similar to an HMO, so you will need a referral. These are also quite rare, and deductibles are typically higher than HMOs. And now you’re thinking, “Okay, are they weird? Because they exist? Because I care?” The main advantage point is that it is a fairly affordable health insurance plan, like an HMO, but you can see doctors outside the network if you are willing to pay a higher rate for it.
Find a health insurance agent
An insurance agent is not mandatory, of course, but you don’t have to do it yourself either. Trying to find the right and affordable health insurance can be quite confusing. If you don’t have a health insurance agent, you can ask your friends or family for recommendations, or you can search the National Association of Health Insurers.
The advantage of using an agent is that he or she can find you cheap health insurance, or at least something reasonably priced, that really suits your needs and that you are not afraid to use. Remember, cheap health insurance could be very expensive if you buy a policy with inadequate coverage.
How to find cheap health insurance in the United States
Healthcare reform has made finding insurance easier, but there’s no guarantee that what you find on state or federal health exchanges will be the cheapest option. Research is still important to be able to evaluate all the alternatives.