Whether you get insurance through your job, you buy it on your own, or you qualify for Medicare or Medicaid, right now is the time to decide about your coverage for next year.
And if you don’t have health insurance now, it’s time to look at your options for getting it before time runs out and you’re shut out for as much as another year.
But first, get to know some basic health insurance terms:
- Premium: The amount you pay each month to have insurance coverage.
- Co-pay: The amount you pay each time you get care, such as a refill of a prescription drug, a clinic visit, a trip to the emergency room, or a hospital stay.
- Deductible: Just like with car insurance, this is the share of your health care costs that you have to pay before your insurance kicks in and covers the rest of your costs for the year. Some plans also have coinsurance, which means you have to keep paying some of your costs all year, even when your insurance plan is paying the rest.
- Preventive health services: A set of essential screenings, tests and vaccinations that all insurance plans must cover without charging you anything, even if you have a deductible. Birth control is also covered, with some exceptions.
- Flexible spending account: A perk that some employers offer to employees, to help them save some of their paycheck tax-free. They can use the money to pay for health care costs that insurance doesn’t cover. But they have to spend it or lose it and renew their account each year.
- Health savings account: A savings account open only to people whose health insurance has a deductible over $1,350 for an individual or $2,700 for a family. They can save money tax-free all year and use it when they have health costs that they’re responsible for; they can carry over money that they didn’t spend the year before.
If you need to buy your own insurance …
The market for individual and family plans opens for business Nov. 1 and closes Dec. 15. That’s a shorter open enrollment period than in previous years.
This year, the site will be down for maintenance on Sunday mornings. You may see less advertising reminding you to sign up and fewer community organizations offering help with choosing a plan and enrolling. Again, HealthCare.gov local resources can help.
For those in need of affordable health coverage, private health insurance is an option, and websites like HealthCoverageFast.com provides such coverage with a few questions and in minutes you can get affordable health coverage that meets you or your family’s needs. With many plans and carriers to choose from, you can be rest assured that there is a health plan that suits your needs. You can get qualified here.
Before Nov. 1:
- You can start getting ready by following these steps.
After Nov. 1:
- Don’t procrastinate. With a shorter enrollment period and not much chance of extending it, you’re better off getting started now. If you leave it until the last minute, you may not be able to get help from overloaded counselors.
- Don’t assume anything. If you’ve bought insurance for yourself before, the plan you had before may change or not be available for 2019. Other plans may have changed their offerings and costs. So check out what’s available in your area for 2019, and choose carefully.
- Check all the plans available in your area. Even if you’ve bought a silver-level plan in the past, you should check bronze, gold and platinum ones, too.
- Don’t just look at the sticker price — look at the actual cost to you. Just like buying a car, your final cost might come down because of subsidies, discounts on copays and deductibles, and credits on your income taxes. You won’t know this until you enter some information. But whatever you do, don’t walk away when you see the initial “sticker price.” This tool can help you understand what financial assistance could help you cover the cost.
- Facing a life change in 2019? Figure out now how big changes might affect your health insurance status. Getting married, having a baby, losing coverage from a job, changing income and other life events may make you eligible for a special enrollment period in 2019. That means you won’t be locked into the choices you make now.
If you’re thinking of going without insurance …
Don’t skip health coverage in 2019 without knowing the options open to you. It’s true that the federal government will no longer penalize you on your income taxes if you go without insurance in 2019; this is different from previous years.
But paying the bills for one illness or injury could wipe you out financially.
If insurance affordability is the issue for you, talk to a counselor.
New this year: More people can buy a bare-bones “catastrophic” plan to cover just the worst-case scenario health situations. But you have to enroll by December 15.
People under 30 automatically qualify to buy these plans. But new for 2019, people over 30 can file for a “hardship exemption” to allow them to buy a catastrophic plan. If you’re experiencing serious financial trouble, or if you live in a state that hasn’t expanded Medicaid, find out if you qualify to buy a catastrophic plan.