If you’re turning 26 this year, you’re likely facing the matter of choosing and paying for your own healthcare options for the first time. Of course, regardless of age, the first time you’re faced with a major life decision, the situation is basically the same: it’s exciting, but also a little scary. And, if you have any sort of chronic health issues or regular prescriptions you must take, the situation becomes even more nerve-wracking.
So, if you’re having to afford healthcare on your own for the first time, what should you do? The following tips should help reduce the stress and improve the decision process for you.
For most Americans, the ins and outs of healthcare insurance isn’t a popular subject they’re raring to dive into. And, unfortunately, it’s not commonly taught in public schools or even most college programs. So, when you’re suddenly in a position where you need to choose coverage and enroll, it’s usually the first time you’ve ever had to look seriously into the subject.
There’s no denying the topic is complicated.
The first key for anyone researching options is to take the time to learn about healthcare coverage:
- Key terminology (like deductible, copay, and premiums)
- How to obtain coverage
- What is legally required vs. what is best for your personal situation
- How much you can expect to pay for each option
There are a number of reputable sources online for this kind of solid, foundational information about healthcare coverage. Here’s a good spot to start, and some simple Google searches will take you even further.
Explore your options
Once you have a basic foundational knowledge in place, you can start collecting your personal options to compare.
If you’re working full time, your employer probably has one or more options available for coverage you can purchase via payroll deductions. In many cases, employers will contribute toward the cost of these premiums, making them accessible for employees from a cost perspective. However, it’s also important to compare other factors, especially based on your personal medical needs.
Other options for medical and dental insurance include The Health Insurance Marketplace, which was set up through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to ensure individuals have access to healthcare coverage. By creating a profile on the Marketplace and completing the questionnaire, you can determine if you qualify to receive subsidies through the ACA to help pay your insurance premiums. You can also compare Marketplace plans and apply right online.
Another route to consider is coverage made available through public services like Medicare and Medicaid. Additionally, some states, counties, and cities may have local arrangements in place for assistance toward insurance costs, and these may work along with or instead of federal plans. These types of programs generally have strict qualifications, including income requirements, resident status, and more.
Be mindful of healthcare beyond major medical services
"It’s important to consider access to affordable dental care, vision care, prescription drugs, mental health care, and other specialties based on your needs. "
While doing this research, it’s easy to get wrapped up solely in general medical coverage since that’s what the majority of programs focus on first, and that’s what is required for adults under the ACA.
However, it’s important to consider access to affordable dental care, vision care, prescription drugs, mental health care, and other specialties based on your needs. Some medical insurance programs include additional optional plans (sometimes called “riders”) that you can add to basic medical insurance to help cover these things. Some plans include basic dental, vision, and other services as part of the medical plan, but they are usually limited to preventive care only.
Fill in the gaps with health insurance alternatives
The final tip around preparation involves recognizing that formal insurance programs are not the only way you can obtain affordable healthcare. In fact, there are a number of options available for health insurance alternatives that may make sense in your unique circumstances.
These include — but are no limited to — the following:
- Dental discount programs
- Discount plans for vision care
- Prescription drug discount plans
- Negotiating with local providers for lower fees
- Office-specific discount packages
- Health Savings Accounts (HSAs)
- Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs)
- Low- and no-cost clinics
In many cases, a combination of internet searches and discussions with local doctors’ and dentists’ offices or pharmacies can bring these alternatives to light in your local area. You can also try contacting your county or state Department of Health and Human Services to inquire about local or state programs that may be available to the uninsured.
Why it matters
By following the tips above, you should be in a position to make the best decision regarding affording your healthcare. In the United States, upwards of 60 percent of all personal bankruptcies are linked to medical bills. At the same time, young adults between 18 and 34 are twice as likely to be uninsured than any other age group. Yet, 1 in 6 young adults have some sort of chronic health condition that requires ongoing care. And, logically, everyone should be concerned about keeping themselves healthy.
What you decide regarding your healthcare is important. At the same time, it’s vital that your decision doesn’t create an unsustainable financial burden, which could be just as bad as being without coverage.
So, take the time to learn what you need to about how healthcare insurance works, which options are available to you, and how to make the best decision. Then, move ahead with the best options for your unique circumstances.
Check out some of these great past articles for more information on dental insurance alternatives.