Read these 9 Finding Affordable Health Insurance Tips tips to make your life smarter, better, faster and wiser. Each tip is approved by our Editors and created by expert writers so great we call them Gurus. LifeTips is the place to go when you need to know about Health Insurance tips and hundreds of other topics.
If you do not have health insurance and have to go to the hospital, ask to apply for free care funds. Many hospitals throughout the country have access to private donations, specifically for patients who cannot pay their bills. Some public hospitals cater specifically to those who are uninsured or have lower incomes. A list of these hospitals can be found at the National Association of Public Hospitals and Health Systems, www.naph.org.
On the other hand, many hospitals will get reimbursed by the state for medical costs through special programs. One such program that provides federal funding to hospitals, nursing homes, and other facilities so that they can provide free care is called the “Hill- Burton” program. These facilities choose the specific services that they will offer for free or at a lower cost to those that qualify. To find the closest Hill-Burton facility to you, go to www.hrsa.gov/hillburton/hillburtonfacilities.htm or call 1.800.638.0742 (1-800-492-0359 in Maryland).
If you can feel the hospital can provide a service that you cannot afford, call the patient services department or get in touch with the hospital's social worker and ask to be assisted in helping you locate a financial program that may be available for you.
Planning on leaving your job next year? Switch to the lowest-cost plan during this year's open enrollment. Then, after you quit, federal rules (known as COBRA) will let you stay on your employer's health plan for up to 18 months, although you'll usually have to pay the full cost, plus 2%. Once you've tapped out COBRA, you must sign up for a new policy within 63 days or insurers can legally turn you down or refuse to cover pre-existing conditions.
If you have a high-deductible health plan (at least $1,100 for individuals; $2,200 for families), you may be eligible to fund a health savings account (HSA), which you can use to pay for medical expenses. In general, contributions are 100% TAX DEDUCTIBLE, interest or other earnings on the assets are TAX FREE, and your money grows TAX DEFERRED. Money saved can be used for qualified medical expenses (see IRS Publication 502) TAX FREE for life. HSA funds can also be used to pay COBRA or other medical insurance premiums during periods of unemployment or temporary layoff.
Any funds you don't use will grow tax-free and can be rolled over from year to year. By the time you turn 65, any money you did not use, you can withdraw in the same style as an IRA (with no penalty), so if you are fortunate health wise, it's almost like a retirement account that you can use for today's medical expenses.
Every insurance company has their own definition of what is “basic coverage” and what is “major medical coverage.” Some policies combine basic and major medical coverage into one plan, called a "comprehensive plan." Generally, basic protection pays toward the costs of a hospital room and care while you're in the hospital. It covers some hospital services and supplies, such as x-rays and prescribed medicine. Basic coverage also pays toward the cost of surgery, whether it is performed in or out of the hospital, and for some doctor visits. Major medical insurance takes over where your basic coverage leaves off. It covers the cost of long, high-cost illnesses or injuries.
Be sure to check your policy for both types of protections because there may be limits on the amount or number of days your insurance will pay for these services.
If you and your domestic partner or spouse are employed and each has access to group health insurance through your respective employer, you need to consider all your options. There are ways of finding cheap health insurance, and today health insurance consumers must be vigilant about considering the costs for each insurance policy. Since both of you are eligible for single-person employer-sponsored coverage, you wil need to figure out if it would be more economical for one of you to add the second person to his or her policy.
Each situation is different, but you should, at a minimum consider the following:
The high costs of health insurance appear to be with us for good, but there are some steps you can consider to achieve more affordable health insurance premiums.
Consider the type of plan you are using. While fewer than 5% of Americans are covered under traditional indemnity/fee-for-service health insurance plans, if you're one of them you can save yourself a bundle by switching to an HMO or PPO. Likewise, if you are in a PPO, switching to an HMO will save you a lot of money, in exchange for reduced flexibility in health care choices.
Whether you are in an indemnity, PPO or HMO, take a closer look at your deductible. The lower your deductible, the higher your premium. If you have a low deductible, consider raising it. If your deductible is in the mid-range, consider switching to a high deductible health plan and opening a health savings account, which offer many tax advantages and can shave hundreds to thousands of dollars off your annual income tax bill. Finding affordable health insurance does not have to be impossible.
The question of affordable health insurance is different for everyone. What may be affordable to a family of four with a gross annual income of $75,000 may be completely unaffordable for another family of four making $35,000 a year. It is up to you to decide what is most affordable for you to pay. However, there are a slew of online health insurance quote sites that can help you gather information on premiums, covered services, and other important insurance plan information.
You can find some examples by visiting Insurelane.com or MonsterQuote.com. This portal includes links to a host of trustworthy quote sites. Another site to visit for those with children is InsureKidsNow.gov, which includes links to information on low cost health insurance for kids in all 50 states plus the District of Columbia.
If you are a smoker, you can reduce your premiums by as much as a few hundred dollars just by quitting. This is due to the fact that health insurance companies know that people who smoke get sick more often and use proportionally more medical services than non-smokers. Equally important to insurers, the type of services smokers are likely to use are generally more expensive than those used by non-smokers, particularly when you consider diseases such as emphysema and lung cancer. The savings on your health insurance premiums is not the only benefit you will receive.
If you are sick less often and using fewer medical services, this would mean lower out-of-pocket expenses for co-pays, and for doctor visits and prescriptions. That easily adds up to another couple hundred dollars in your pocket. If you are also a pack-a-day smoker and you quit, at a conservative $3.50 per pack, which is nearly $1,300 in savings per year alone.
Anyone trying to quit smoking and needing help should visit QuitNet.com. Aside from providing a lot a helpful tips and articles on quitting smoking, you can plug in your zip code and receive a list of smoking cessation support programs in your area.
The statistics on health insurance affordability are grim: Since 2000, health insurance costs have spiked 59% while in that same period of time worker's pay has only increased 12%. With the cost of health insurance squeezing the family budget ever tighter, more and more families are dropping the coverage they have because they cannot afford it. Finding low cost health insurance is difficult these days.
Your best bet as far as insuring a family is to try to get employer-sponsored health insurance. Even though you will likely need to contribute to cover the cost of the premiums, employers are able to get far better rates for a group than you would be able to get buying an individual policy. A plus is that employers will pay part of the premium.
If your employer does not offer insurance, or if you are a freelance contract worker or small business owner, see about joining a professional organization or union. Many of them offer access to group health insurance for members. Finally, if you have to consider an individual (private) health insurance plan, a health maintenance organization (HMO) will be the least expensive followed by a preferred provider organization (PPO). While HMOs require cutting through a lot of red tape and will limit your medical care options in terms of where and when you can receive services, most offer fairly robust coverage to families.
|Jennifer Mathes, Ph.D.|