How to Find Affordable Health Insurance

With so many news headlines about rising health care costs and diminishing choices in recent years, it can seem impossible to find an affordable health insurance policy.

In reality, however, most Americans have several options from which to choose from if they want to find affordable health insurance plans. Being able to find these plans depends significantly on the applicant’s health needs, geographic location and access to nearby medical services.

Individuals who are shopping for new health insurance should make sure to pay attention to the open enrollment dates, which usually begin close to the end of the year. You may not be eligible to participate in one of these programs once the open enrollment period has ended unless you qualify for an exemption due to circumstances such as recently losing your job and losing access to also your employer-based health insurance. When on the fence about how to find the best affordable health insurance to meet your needs, work through the following steps to make sure you are taking all of your available options into account before choosing the right plan.

Familiarize yourself with most recent ACA regulations

Try to get to know the most important aspects of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and related regulations. According to these new policies, for example, you must be eligible for some form of affordable health care regardless of any pre-existing medical conditions. Along the same lines, insurance companies can no longer impose a lifetime limit for necessary medical care, and you should have a minimum number of preventive care appointments included at little or no cost to you.

Due to the government’s expenditure on health care services for the uninsured, Americans that forgo signing up for some form of ACA-certified insurance plan must pay an annual penalty until 2019. If you are considering not participating in any health insurance plan at all, you should note that there is a tax penalty for not having health insurance. This is equal to 2.5 percent of your household income or $695 per person, whichever is higher. In many cases, getting some form of basic health insurance may be less than this penalty amount.

Look into employer-related insurance or if recently unemployed, COBRA

For many people, employer-related health care plans are the most affordable option because a significant proportion of the total cost for the program is subsidized by the employer. However, some employers may not offer the sort of comprehensive health insurance plan you need or want through the group health insurance option, in which case you should continue looking at your other options. Many employers also include family health insurance options, which can be great options for families looking for health coverage for the entire household.

The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, better known as COBRA, was created to help bridge the gap in coverage that sometimes occurs when changing jobs. With COBRA insurance, employees can stay on their former employer’s insurance plan for usually up to 18 months after separation from the company. COBRA programs, however, are subsidized differently and often significantly more expensive for former employees than the same programs were during employment.

Check out your state health insurance marketplace

Per ACA guidelines, each state has either created its own online health insurance marketplace or worked with the federal government to use the federal marketplace that allows residents to shop for available health insurance plans in their area. All insurance plans found through your state insurance marketplace will meet basic ACA standards and provide you with a variety of coverage options.

Most people will have a variety of affordable Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs), Preferred Provider Organizations (PPOs) and Exclusive Provider Organizations (EPOs) available to them. Other common health insurance plans found in state marketplaces that generally have higher out-of-pocket costs include Point-of-Service (POS) Plans, High-Deductible Health Plans (HDHPs) and Fee for Service (FFS) Plans. When searching through the Health Insurance Marketplace, you can filter results to specifically meet the qualifications and budget you are looking in a health insurance plan.

Check an online insurance aggregator

Before definitively deciding on a health insurance plan you find in the state marketplace, do a quick online check to see if any other good deals on health insurance plans are available to enrollees in your area. Sometimes, private insurance companies will offer additional health insurance plans to those you find in the state marketplace.

To find offers like this, you can go directly to the website of trusted health insurance providers that you are already familiar with to see if anything new comes up. You can also visit a third-party website specifically dedicated to searching through available insurance plans to see if anything you have not already seen is available in your area. These sites can sometimes help you track down some of those harder-to-find deals on health insurance plans.

Consider using a health insurance agent or broker

If you are at a loss of where to begin sorting through available insurance programs that you may be eligible for, you may want to consider consulting an insurance agent or broker. Insurance brokers can be especially useful when you have specific requests or medical needs that require particular care.

There are two primary groups of insurance agents – those who are associated with a single insurance provider and those who are independent and therefore work with multiple insurance providers. Unless you already know which insurance provider you want to work with and are struggling only to decide which of that company’s health insurance plans to choose, an agency-specific insurance broker is just what you need. If you are deciding between health insurance plans from multiple insurance providers, working with an independent insurance broker will give you with more options from more health insurance companies.

Learn how to qualify for any government-subsidized programs

Many people qualify for federally subsidized health insurance programs and may not realize it. The largest national health care programs are Medicare, Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), each of which is dedicated to a specific target population. Medicare is aimed at providing adequate coverage to those who are 65 or older, as well as to certain younger individuals who meet other eligibility requirements.

Medicaid is a national program that aims to provide low-income individuals and families with a minimum standard of health care, with eligibility requirements largely related to an applicant’s household income and medical needs. The Children’s Health Program (CHIP) provides comprehensive health insurance options for children who would otherwise go without insurance.

Find out about the requirements of specialty programs

Specialty health insurance programs that also meet ACA regulations include High-Deductible Health Plans (HDHPs), catastrophic plans and plans for dependents younger than 26 years old. HDHPs work for individuals in great health who could afford to pay a very high deductible in the unlikely event they need extensive medical care. Participants in HDHPs can opt for an HSA, a high-interest savings account where they can put away tax-free income for use towards eventual medical costs.

Catastrophic health insurance plans are also aimed at healthy individuals who do not expect to face any serious medical needs in the near future, but applicants must also be younger than 30 years of age to participate. Individuals who are under 26 years of age may be able to add themselves to their parent’s health insurance plan to take advantage of partially subsidized insurance option before being required to purchase their own health insurance plan.

Learn about non-ACA regulated short-term insurance plans

If there is little to no hope of you being able to afford a private health insurance plan through the state marketplace or an employer, it is still a bad idea to go any period of time without any health insurance coverage at all. You can look into buying into a short-term health insurance plan that can cost significantly less than the plans you see in the marketplace, mostly because they do not adhere to the same ACA regulations. Doing some quick online research should help you find any short-term health insurance plans that are available for residents in your area.

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