Getting Your Own Health Insurance

If you’ve graduated and are still searching for your first job —or your new employer doesn’t offer health care benefits—it’s important that you understand your choices for health insurance. Investigate your options before you get sick or injured. Health care can be expensive, but a large medical bill can deliver a severe financial blow. Insurance is one way to reduce the possibility of medical debt.

Why You Need Health Insurance

Even if you’re healthy, there are a lot of good reasons to get health insurance:

  • It can cover preventive care, such as vaccines and yearly checkups.
  • An accident or illness can happen unexpectedly. Even minor surgeries can result in thousands of dollars in medical bills.
  • Without health insurance, you may have to prove you can pay for medical care out of pocket before receiving treatment, except in emergencies.
  • Delaying medical or dental treatment can lead to more serious and costly health problems.

The Basics

When reviewing your health insurance options, you’ll likely come across these key terms:

  • Copay: A fixed amount of money that you pay the service provider for a visit or prescription (your health insurer covers the rest).
  • Deductible: The amount of money that you have to pay upfront before your health insurance provider begins paying.
  • Monthly premium: A monthly fee that you have to pay to your insurer to be covered for doctor visits, hospital visits, or prescriptions. Often, this fee is taken directly out of your paycheck.

Compare Your Options

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) offers a new way for you to evaluate and purchase health care if you are not covered by an employer-sponsored program. The ACA established the Health Insurance Marketplace, which allows you to compare health insurance options side by side to find an option that fits your needs and your budget. It collects information about private health insurance plans in one place so you can review your options.

You’re not limited to the Marketplace. Consider these other sources of health care insurance

  • Your parent’s plan: Under the ACA, all health insurance plans are required to cover children until age 26. Ask your parents about coverage through their plans.
  • Short-term insurance: If you are healthy or don’t have pre-existing medical conditions, a short- term policy can cover you for one to six months while you are between jobs, looking for your first job, or considering other options.
  • Your school’s plan: Many colleges and alumni groups offer plans for recent grads. Some extend coverage under their current college-offered plan for 90 days after graduation. Check with your alumni association and health center for more information.
  • COBRA: If you’ve recently left or lost your job, you most likely can pay to stay on your former employer’s insurance plan for a short period of time, thanks to the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act. Ask your employer or visit the Department of Labor’s website for more information.

Find a Plan to Fit Your Budget

In addition to helping you do a side-by-side price comparison, the Health Insurance Marketplace also may help you lower your insurance premiums based on your household income. Look closely at your options, because each plan offers different ways to pay for health care: either paying more money before you receive a service, more at the time of service, or more following the service.

Some insurance plans allow you to add on a flexible spending account or a health savings account , either of which will let you accumulate funds in a special bank account to cover medical expenses. These policies have low premiums and allow you to write off the expenses on your taxes, but they come with high deductibles.

Don’t leave your finances unprotected or let your health fall by the wayside. Investigate your options for health care coverage, and find a plan that fits your life and your budget.

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