With the coronavirus pandemic at the forefront of minds across the United States and worldwide, having affordable health insurance is more important than ever. But not every employer offers health insurance as a benefit to its employees. And with the rise in part-time remote contract work instead of employment and small business ownership or freelance work, many people don’t have the option of employer-offered health insurance coverage. So, how do you choose a health insurance plan if your job doesn’t offer it or you work for yourself?
Luckily, there are options to choose from. All you need to know is where to look and which insurance plan best fits you and your family. And your first stop should be the health insurance marketplace.
Visit the ACA Health Insurance Marketplace
The 2010 Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare, brought health insurance options to many uninsured Americans across the U.S., in addition to allowing states to expand the qualifications for Medicaid eligibility. The health insurance marketplace is where you can apply for insurance during the enrollment period in November and December of each year. But if you have a qualifying event, like the birth of a child or loss of other health insurance, you could qualify for special enrollment anytime during the year.
Once you fill out an application in the marketplace, caseworkers will evaluate your circumstances and let you know if you’re eligible for health insurance through the marketplace portal. From there, you can compare the available options and enroll in the plan of your choice. The portal offers four tiers of insurance that vary in coverage and cost but keep in mind that you could qualify for premium tax credits to reduce your overall premium.
If you don’t qualify for marketplace coverage due to income levels, your application results might tell you that you qualify for Medicaid.
If your income is low and meets the parameters of Medicaid, you could qualify for this type of coverage. When the government passed the ACA, extending the qualifications, 38 states and D.C. also expanded their Medicaid coverage to include more people. When you fill out your application in the marketplace, the results might show you qualify for Medicaid in your state. If that’s the case, they will give you the next steps to take to receive coverage at no cost to you.
Getting Health Insurance Outside the Marketplace
Although the marketplace is supposed to be a hub for private insurances to compete for your business, a quick look at the plans can steer people away based on monthly cost and high deductibles. If that’s the case, you can turn to the private sector outside the marketplace to choose insurance. Local insurance brokers might give you better rates to get your business, so look for health insurance companies in your area.
Whether you look online or in your town, these health insurance plans are similar to what employers would offer. The only difference is that you pay the entire premium instead of sharing the cost with your employer.
Be sure to compare and contrast plan coverage, monthly costs, and deductibles to choose the best plan for you and your family. Consider any conditions you or your family members have and how often you think you might need to file an insurance claim. Of course, you can’t plan for everything, but do your best to anticipate your insurance needs before choosing a plan. Also, compare the rates you receive to what you might find in the marketplace to make sure you get the best deal possible.
Choosing Short-Term Health Coverage
Picking an insurance policy can be a lengthy process. There are many choices and different coverage, cost, and circumstances make it complex. The longer you take to choose, the longer you go without insurance. That means you run the risk of a health crisis or accident catching you without the backup of coverage.
To account for that, some people might look into short-term health insurance coverage. The problem with this type of coverage is that it doesn’t usually cover pre-existing conditions, prescription drugs, or maternity care. Plus, you won’t get a tax credit to mitigate the overall price.
If this option looks tempting for cost reasons, be aware that policy shortfalls and the short expiration date may not be worth the cost.
Still, if short-term health coverage interests you, check with reputable health insurance online or in person.
Group Insurance Options
Are you a member of an organization outside of work? If so, ask them if they offer group health insurance. While you still have to cover the cost of premiums and cost shares, a group discount might be just the thing you need to afford the health insurance coverage you want. Here are some organizations that offer group health insurance:
- Writer’s Guild of America
- AARP Health
- Affiliated Workers Association
- Association for Computing Machinery
- Costco Health Insurance Marketplace
- Freelancers Union
- Alliance for Affordable Services
If you don’t belong to any of these, but you belong to one not on this list, ask them if they would consider getting a group plan. They might not be aware of the option to organize such a benefit for their members. They could be open to the suggestion.
Healthcare Sharing and Discount Cards
While shopping for health insurance, you might see references to healthcare sharing ministries (HCSM) or health insurance discount cards. Please note, these programs are not health insurance because you still pay your medical costs.
HCSM programs share health expenses by grouping together and using the money to pay for everyone’s collective healthcare. It functions as an insurance company itself but often has restrictive rules associated with what it will and won’t cover. So, be sure it’s a reputable HCSM and that you read all the rules before participating.
Health insurance discount cards are plans where members pay a fee for discounted healthcare costs. So, you still bear the weight of your medical expenses. However, the program negotiates lower prices to make healthcare more affordable. As with HCSM, be sure to read the coverage agreement and prices before you sign up.
Talk to Your Employer
If your company doesn’t offer health insurance as a benefit, consider asking them to add it to your package. At the very least, they can tell you why they don’t offer it. And, maybe advise you about where other employees get their insurance.
Perhaps if it interests enough employees, the company might look into the possibility of offering a health insurance plan. But unless and until that time comes, you have several options to choose from to get the coverage you need.
Buy the Insurance That Fits You
Not all jobs offer health insurance as a benefit, but that doesn’t mean you have to go without it. In fact, you’re taking a considerable risk if you do. Instead of potentially putting yourself in a harmful health or financial position, there are options available for you to get coverage that fits your life.
When shopping for plans, be sure to consider your and your family’s specific healthcare needs. What the policy does and doesn’t cover, the overall monthly cost to you — and the deductibles you’ll have to pay for services — are important.
Before making a final choice, compare plans and ask questions, so you’re fully satisfied with your decision. After all, you don’t want any surprises when you have to see a doctor or fill a prescription. Remember, your health insurance choice is as individual as you are — so do some research and take some time picking the best policy for yourself and your loved ones.