Health Insurance Alternatives

Contributor, Benzinga

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Health insurance can give you the peace of mind that comes with knowing that you won’t be left on the hook for thousands of dollars’ worth of medical bills if you’re involved in an accident. 

Unfortunately, it can also be prohibitively expensive — especially if you cannot get coverage through your employer. Our guide will introduce you to a few more cost-effective ways to control your medical expenses without traditional health insurance

Why Would You Avoid Health Insurance?

The primary reason why people would avoid health insurance is the cost. Health insurance premiums (especially on private health insurance plans) can be too expensive for many people to reasonably fit into their monthly budget. In 2020, the average cost of a health insurance plan was $456 per month for individuals and $1,152 per month for families.

Your monthly premium doesn’t encompass everything that you’ll pay for on a health insurance plan. When you use your coverage, you’ll first pay a “deductible” before your plan starts providing you with benefits. A deductible is a set dollar amount that you need to spend on your own health insurance costs before your plan “kicks in” and begins covering your medical expenses.

For example, imagine that your health insurance plan includes a $2,000 deductible. If you need to use your health insurance plan and receive medical care, you’ll need to cover $2,000 worth of your own healthcare expenses before your plan starts covering costs. 

After you reach your deductible, you’ll be responsible for paying your co-insurance percentage. For example, your plan might have a 20% coinsurance percentage. If you received a $5,000 medical bill, you’d need to pay for the first $2,000 of this bill out-of-pocket. 

When it comes to the remaining $3,000, you’ll need to pay 20% of the bill — your health insurance will cover the remainder. This means that out of this $5,000, you’d need to pay a total of $2,600 if you haven’t yet reached your deductible. Keep in mind that premiums do not contribute towards your deductible, and you’ll need to pay your premium every month, regardless of whether you use your coverage or not.

Deductibles can be another significant expense associated with traditional health insurance. In 2020, the average deductible for an individual plan was $4,364 and $8,439 for a family plan. This deductible resets each year, which means that you’ll need to budget for deductible expenses as well as your monthly premium expenses every year. For many families, this is simply out of the realm of expenses that they can afford. 

What is a Health Insurance Alternative?

Traditional health insurance plans (either purchased through your employer or through a private provider on the Affordable Care Act Marketplace) are the most comprehensive way to protect yourself, they aren’t the only choice that you have to lower your medical expenses.

As the name suggests, health insurance alternatives are other types of plans or accounts that can help you control what you pay for healthcare. These alternatives often come with limitations on the types of services and treatments that are covered but can also be significantly more affordable than monthly health insurance premiums. If you’re basically healthy and only need occasional medical care, you may be able to save money by choosing a health insurance alternative over a traditional plan option.

Best Health Insurance Alternatives

If you’re having trouble covering the costs of traditional health insurance, you might want to consider one of our favorite health insurance alternatives. 

1. Cash-Only Doctor’s Office

If you’ve ever dealt with a health insurance company, you probably already know that getting your insurance to cover your care can be like pulling teeth. What you might not know is that doctors usually hate dealing with insurance companies as well.

If you can’t afford insurance, you might want to look for a doctor’s office in your area that accepts cash payments. These doctors may only accept cash payments (or limit insurance accepted to Medicare or Medicaid) because they don’t want to go through the hassle of dealing with insurance companies. 

You can usually avoid insurance altogether when you get care through a cash-only doctor’s office — and you’ll save a significant percentage on any care that you receive. 

2. Short-Term Health Insurance 

Short-term health insurance plans are limited insurance plans that provide you with a limited amount of coverage in exchange for very low premiums. These plans often have maximum limitations on the amount of money that you can claim from your insurance provider, but it’s possible to find coverage from just $200 a month for individuals.

If you’re considering investing in a short-term health insurance plan, it’s incredibly important that you fully understand what exactly is covered under your plan. Short-term health insurance plans don’t need to cover the 10 Essential Health Benefits put forth by the Affordable Care Act, and plan providers have no obligation to extend coverage to pre-existing conditions that you have when you sign onto your plan.

Short-term health insurance plans are often very limited in their range of coverage. An analysis of short-term health insurance plans completed by the Kaiser Family Foundation (a health research nonprofit) found that:

  • 71% of short-term insurance plans surveyed did not cover outpatient prescription drugs
  • 62% of short-term plans surveyed did not cover substance abuse issues
  • 43% of short-term plans surveyed offered no coverage for mental health services or care
  • 100% of short-term plans surveyed did not cover maternity care services

Though short-term plans might be useful for traumatic accidents and emergency care, they do not provide a solution for ongoing medical care needs and health maintenance. It’s also important to note that these types of plans are not available in every state. In 2020, there are 11 states where there were no short-term plans available for sale. 

3. Primary Care Memberships

A primary care membership (sometimes referred to as “concierge medical services”) is a type of network that allows you to access basic medical care (like physicals and pediatric care) in exchange for a membership fee. 

These membership fees usually range from $60 to $100 a month, which makes them significantly more affordable than traditional health insurance plans. You’ll also be able to access priority scheduling and personalized care through this type of plan.

The drawback of primary care membership plans is that only a very limited range of services are covered. These memberships are offered directly by healthcare providers, and usually only cover maintenance appointments. 

They rarely cover things like surgery or more complex care needs. Most people who buy a primary care membership also carry some form of health insurance to protect themselves in the event that they need emergency care.  

4. Health-Sharing Plans

A health-sharing plan is a type of program that allows multiple participants to pool resources together to cover the cost of medical care. Each month, you’ll pay fees into the pool to maintain your status in the program. If you need medical care, you’ll pay an “incident fee” that’s similar to a co-pay. The pool will then cover the remainder of your medical care costs.

Many health-sharing programs are independent operations run by faith-based organizations, so they may limit access to some types of services and treatments. For example, your contract might state that you cannot use pooled funds to access birth control, abortion, select mental health services or substance abuse treatments. 

These plans may also include a clause that says that you aren’t guaranteed to have all of your outstanding treatment costs covered beyond a certain threshold, and many include lifetime benefit caps. If you do decide to participate in a health-sharing plan, be sure to read the fine print thoroughly.  

5. High-Deductible Health Plans (HDHPs)

High-deductible health plans (HDHPs) are insurance plans that come with low monthly premiums but which also have extremely high deductibles. It’s normal for these types of plans to have deductibles starting at $8,000 — your plan might have a deductible as high as $14,000. 

The only people who should consider these types of plans are those who are rarely sick and who don’t need regular medical attention. These types of plans are often sold alongside health savings accounts (HSAs), which allow you to save pre-tax dollars for qualified medical expenses. 

Benzinga’s Top Health Insurance Providers

If you know that you need regular medical care or services, you may be better off searching for an affordable health insurance plan. Not sure where to start your search? Consider a few of our favorite options below. 

get started Call Now securely through Blue Cross Blue Shield’s website
# of Healthcare Providers
Online Application?
1 Minute Review

Blue Cross Blue Shield consists of 35 separate companies that provide health insurance for roughly one-third of Americans. The company serves all 50 states, Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, and many international areas.

While you look into the BCBS affiliates near you, understand what health plans are available as well as the health insurance cost. It offers extensive coverage that gives just about every American the opportunity to purchase a BCBS-affiliated health plan. However, be sure to read up on the company because the premiums and deductibles may not suit you and your circumstances. 

Best For
  • Desire for a new doctor with plenty of options
  • No cap on annual maximum limits
  • Comprehensive coverage with exclusive discounts and partnerships
  • Coverage in all 50 states and outside the country
  • Covers both generic and brand-name drugs
  • Wide network of doctors, hospitals and specialists
  • Plans offered through regional companies, meaning you must look to your regional company for specific policies
  • Main customer service helpline may be difficult to reach
Get Started securely through Sidecar Health Access Plan’s website
Disclosure: Plans referred to above are excepted benefit fixed indemnity insurance products marketed and administered by Sidecar Health Insurance Solutions, LLC and underwritten by Sirius America Insurance Company or United States Fire Insurance Company, depending on the state. As an excepted benefit plan, it does not provide comprehensive/major medical expenses coverage, minimum essential coverage, or essential health benefits. You cannot receive a subsidy (premium tax credit and/or cost-sharing reduction) under the ACA in connection with your purchase of such an excepted benefit fixed indemnity insurance plan. Also, the termination or loss of this policy does not entitle you to a special enrollment period to purchase a health benefit plan that qualifies as minimum essential coverage outside of an open enrollment period. Coverage and plan options may vary or may not be available in all states.
# of Healthcare Providers
See any doctor
Online Application?
1 Minute Review

Sidecar Health Access Plan is another approach to traditional health insurance. Instead of your health care providers billing your insurance, you pay upfront using the Sidecar Health payment card. This results in savings of up to 40% on healthcare costs for its customers. 

Established in 2018, Sidecar Health Access Plan is based in El Segundo, California. Its plan options are easy-to-understand and allow you to shop upfront for affordable health care rather than receiving care and finding out what it costs later. 

Learn more about Sidecar Health Access Plan and how it works.

Prefer to talk to an agent on the phone? Call 866-794-1192 to speak to a representative now.

Best For
  • People who are younger than age 65
  • People in relatively good health
  • People who want to shop for affordable doctors, specialists or procedures
  • People who want transparency in healthcare costs
  • You can customize your plan
  • It may reduce healthcare costs by as much as 40%
  • It has a mobile app to access information on-the-go
  • No provider network, so you can see any doctor with no referrals needed
  • No enrollment period
  • Plans are not compliant with the Affordable Care Act (ACA)
  • Plans have an annual coverage limit
# of Healthcare Providers
Online Application?
1 Minute Review

Kaiser Permanente is a not-for-profit health plan. Kaiser Permanente offers both health insurance and health care, which has resulted in excellent reviews from customers and rating organizations. Kaiser Permanente does have limited service areas, and you typically need to stay in-network for services unless you’re experiencing an emergency.

Best For
  • People in Kaiser Permanente service areas
  • People who don’t mind managed care
  • People who like to manage their care online
  • Many services available in one location
  • Ability to make appointments online or using an app
  • Good customer service
  • Limited service area
  • Need to stay in the Kaiser Permanente network for most services
# of Healthcare Providers
Online Application?
1 Minute Review

UnitedHealthcare is an insurance company that is dedicated to making the health care system work better for everyone. Its plans can serve customers of all ages, starting in childhood and continuing all the way through the retirement years. The company partners with more than 1.3 million health care professionals and over 6,500 hospitals to give customers the freedom to access healthcare wherever they are. This insurance provider has a strong financial standing and good ratings, making it a reliable option for just about anybody.

Best For
  • People who want flexibility in their health care coverage
  • People who want supplemental insurance coverage
  • People who qualify for both Medicare and Medicaid
  • Offers a wide variety of plans
  • Strong financial and customer service ratings
  • ACA and non ACA plans available
  • Not all plans ACA-compliant
  • The website can make it difficult to get a quote
# of Healthcare Providers
Online Application?
1 Minute Review

Cigna Health Insurance offers low-cost private health insurance and Medicare Advantage and Supplement Plans for families and individuals. Founded in 1982 and based in Bloomfield, Connecticut, the company offers a wide array of health insurance plans including three Bronze plans, four Silver and one Gold. All Cigna plans are EPO plans, meaning they are all in-network. Free telehealth visits come with every plan and are available to customers 24/7.

The four-metal tier coverage plans include:

  • Bronze
  • Expanded bronze
  • Silver
  • Gold

Individual and family Cigna private insurance plans are all available on the Marketplace and through the Cigna website, as well as with licensed agents in each state. Because they are sold through the Marketplace, they can only be purchased during your state’s open enrollment period. Special enrollment periods apply for special circumstances.

Best For
  • Easy access to benefits
  • Pharmacy programs
  • Savings and spending accounts such as HSA and FSA
  • Supplemental plans
  • Home delivery for prescriptions
  • Health management mobile apps
  • Easy ID card replacement
  • Potentially high deductibles
  • Not available in all 50 states

Find Affordable Health Coverage

Health insurance alternatives can be appealing. After all, if you don’t need to visit the doctor frequently, why would you pay almost $500 a month for coverage? 

While many people can save tons of money with a health insurance alternative, many will also find that the care that they need isn’t covered by the most popular health insurance alternatives — or that they actually end up paying more money for care with these alternatives than they would with a traditional health insurance plan. 

Be sure to do plenty of research and know exactly what is and is not covered before you invest in one of these alternatives. 

Frequently Asked Questions


Can you get treated without health insurance?

Can you get treated without health insurance?

If you’re in need of emergency medical care, many hospitals will treat you regardless of your ability to pay for your medical bills. Make sure you know each healthcare provider’s policies in your area so you know where to go in the event that you need urgent medical care. You can also invest in a health insurance alternative to lessen your medical care expenses. 


What can you do if you can’t afford health insurance?

What can you do if you can’t afford health insurance?

If you cannot afford health insurance, you’re not alone. You can research doctors’ offices in your area that accept cash to lower your care costs. You can also invest in an affordable alternative plan that protects you when you’re most vulnerable.