Health insurance is a critical protection you need to get the medical treatments you’ll need throughout your lifetime. If you’re living without health insurance, you could find yourself liable for thousands of dollars worth of medical bills in the event that you develop an illness or injure yourself.
Knowing how to buy health insurance can help you get the coverage you need at a price your family can afford. Read on to learn more about the steps you can expect to go through when you buy health insurance.
Step 1: Check the Dates
The easiest time to buy health insurance is during the annual open enrollment period. During open enrollment, you can sign up for health insurance, change your health insurance plan and drop a plan and choose a new one. Open enrollment is usually Nov. 1 through Dec. 15. If you sign up for coverage during open enrollment, your health insurance coverage will go into effect on the first day of the new year.
If you’re close to open enrollment, you can begin thinking about the type of health insurance coverage you’ll want to sign up for early. If open enrollment is far away, check to see whether you qualify for a special enrollment period. A special enrollment period allows you to sign up for a new health insurance plan outside of the open enrollment period.
Step 2: Open a Marketplace Account
When you’re eligible to buy a health insurance plan, you’ll create a profile through the health insurance Marketplace. Begin by visiting Healthcare.gov and entering some personal information on your income and address. The Marketplace collects this information to determine whether you qualify for any Marketplace subsidies that can lower the price you pay for health insurance.
Step 3: Browse Coverage Options and Choices
After you create your profile, you’ll be able to browse health insurance plans available in your area. The specific health insurance plans and companies you have access to will vary depending on where you live, as not every health insurance provider is authorized to issue plans in every state. You can sort plans by deductible, premium, star rating and coverage level through the Marketplace. Be sure to review each plan in detail when you shop so you know all of the costs associated with the plan you choose.
Step 4: Enroll in Coverage
Once you find a plan that works with your budget and needs, you’ll enroll in the plan online or directly through the health insurance company offering the plan. Follow your insurance company’s instructions for applying for the specific policy you choose. You’ll usually be approved for insurance relatively quickly, as you no longer need to submit personal health information or undergo a physical examination before getting insured.
Step 5: Pay Your Premiums
After you’re approved, all you need to do is pay your premiums when they’re due, wait to receive your insurance card in the mail and begin using your coverage. Remember, when you pay your monthly premiums, you’ll pay them directly to the insurance company that issues your plan. You will not pay your premiums through the federal or state insurance exchange where you bought the plan.
This means you may need to create an additional profile or online portal with your insurance provider to view plan details and pay your monthly premiums. You may want to ask your insurance representative if autopay features are available, which can ensure you don’t get dropped from coverage because you forgot to pay a premium.
Health Insurance Tips
As you shop your health insurance marketplace, you might find yourself unsure of how to choose the exact plan you need. Use these tips to get an affordable policy that’s perfect for the needs of your family.
No. 1: Consider the true costs of your plan. It can be tempting to shop for a health insurance plan solely on the monthly premium you’ll pay to keep your coverage current.
However, the monthly premium is just a small consideration to think about when you consider how much you’ll pay for your health insurance. You’ll also need to consider deductibles, coinsurance percentages and copays when calculating the true cost of your plan. Be sure to thoroughly review all of your plan’s expenses before you enroll in coverage.
No. 2: Go beyond private insurance. If you’ve ever shopped for insurance before, you already know that private health insurance can be expensive. Before you invest in a plan, consider other more affordable health insurance options you may qualify for.
For example, if you’re older than 65, you likely qualify for Medicare, a low-cost government-sponsored health insurance option. You might also be able to get health insurance coverage through Medicaid, a program for low-income individuals and families.
Be sure to consider your options before you buy a private health insurance plan, as these alternatives are almost always significantly cheaper than Marketplace plans.
No. 3: Take steps to quit smoking. Thanks to the introduction of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), health insurance companies can no longer deny you coverage or charge you more for insurance if you have a pre-existing condition.
However, health insurance companies can and do ask about your tobacco usage before setting your plan premiums. Smoking damages nearly every system in your body and can lead to serious health complications.
Health insurance companies charge tobacco users more for their coverage because using tobacco has been shown to lead to more health problems. Taking steps to quit can lower your premiums significantly — so if you need one more reason to quit, here it is.
No. 4: Know where to shop online. Some states have their own health insurance marketplace, while others use the federal Marketplace. However, you don’t need to necessarily track down your state’s individual site to start shopping. Head directly to https://www.healthcare.gov/ and enter your ZIP code — you’ll automatically be directed to whichever marketplace is used in your state.
Mistakes to Avoid When Buying Health Insurance
Avoiding the most common mistakes that shoppers run into when they buy health insurance can help you find comprehensive coverage without breaking the bank. Here are some regular health insurance mistakes many Americans make when they buy health insurance.
No. 1: Not knowing the truth about short-term health insurance. Health insurance can be expensive, which is why many shoppers consider substituting ACA coverage with a short-term health insurance plan. While short-term plans are very affordable, they do not provide the same protections as long-term health insurance options that you’d find through the state or federal exchange.
For example, because short-term plans do not need to abide by ACA rules, they can regularly deny coverage for services considered to be required benefits on ACA plans — like mental healthcare, pregnancy and maternity care and coverage for pre-existing conditions. While short-term plans can be better than having no coverage at all, they are not a substitute for long-term health insurance.
No. 2: Assuming that you don’t need health insurance because you are in good health. Some shoppers assume that because they are healthy right now, they don’t need to buy a health insurance policy. After all, now that insurance companies can’t bill you more for any pre-existing conditions you have, can’t you just buy a policy when you get sick or injured to save money?
The answer is no. Health insurance plans have specific times and periods when you can enroll in a policy — and if you get sick without coverage, you could be left liable for thousands of dollars in medical bills. Begin shopping for a policy before you need to use your benefits — your body and your wallet will thank you.
Compare Health Insurance Providers
Now that you understand how to enroll in health insurance coverage, it’s a great time to begin searching for a policy. Benzinga offers insights and reviews on the following health insurance providers. You may want to consider beginning your search for insurance using the links below.
Frequently Asked Questions
How much is health insurance a month for a single person?
The average price of a private health insurance plan is about $456 for an individual and $1,152 for a family per month. However, average insurance expenses vary by state and individual plan.
Which type of health insurance is least expensive?
If you’re concerned about the cost of health insurance, you should be sure that you don’t qualify for Medicaid before purchasing a private health insurance policy. Medicaid is a very low-cost health insurance option for those living on a limited income. If you don’t qualify for Medicaid, you may be able to claim a subsidy for private insurance through the Marketplace.