Whether you had it and lost it, or never had it to begin with, not having health insurance can be tricky — and expensive. Here’s how to navigate the best coverage for YOU:
1. Remain with the ‘rents: Thanks to Mr. Obama and his Affordable Care Act, which went into effect in September 2010, you can now be covered under your parent’s insurance plan until your 26th birthday. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the ACA includes young adults who are not filed as dependents on a parent’s tax return; no longer live with the parent; and are not full-time students. You can even stay on your parent’s plan if you are married, financially independent, or eligible to enroll in your employer’s plan. However, keep in mind that the ACA only affects insurance companies who currently offer dependent coverage. Employers are also not required to offer coverage to dependents (although thankfully for you, most do). Learn more here…and then ask your parents nicely to remain on their insurance. Use the extra time to find a plan of your own or negotiate one with your employer.
2. Continue on with COBRA: If you or your family has lost your health insurance due to a series of unforeseen circumstances, you might be eligible to continue on your existing benefits through the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA). These circumstances include: voluntary or involuntary job loss, reduction in the hours worked, transition between jobs, death, divorce, and other major life events. Keep in mind that it’s only a temporary fix; most people are eligible for up to 18 months of continued coverage. While it’s going to be more expensive than your group coverage previously was (because usually your employer pays for part of the premium, and now you’re paying the whole thing), it is still usually less expensive than individual health coverage. Read more about COBRA here and, if interested, get your fingers ready to file: depending on the event that qualified you for coverage you only have 14-60 days to apply.
3. Walk-ins welcome: If you’re feeling under the weather or have a less urgent medical question, your local walk-in clinic can be a great resource. A visit to the walk-in clinic is generally less expensive than a visit to the hospital, and a sensible way to decipher between an everyday cold and something more serious before taking more drastic measures. Many walk-in clinics are open 24-7, and have knowledgable doctors and nurses on staff to help you. Use FindUrgentCare.com or CVS Minute Clinic to find a location near you, or check in with your local pharmacy — they might even have a clinic in-house. Of course, in the event of a medical emergency it is still advisable to go directly to your nearest emergency room, regardless of insurance.
4. Get preventive: It may be easy to forget sometimes, but the best way to avoid hefty healthcare costs is to take good care of yourself! Besides the obvious factors (sleep, exercise, and a balanced diet), take advantage of free services offered in your area. For example, a federal program funded through the Centers for Disease Control provides free breast cancer screenings and Pap tests to eligible women. Local health fairs often provide free blood pressure readings, and many local health clinics provide free STD testing. Nearby colleges and universities are also a good bet for finding free health fairs and events. Look for announcements in local newspapers or check the upcoming events board at your town’s community center to see when free testing is available.
5. Do your homework: If you are opting to pay for health care out of pocket, compare and contrast prices first just like you would any other service (you wouldn’t get your hair done without comparing salons first, right?). UCompareHealthCare.com is a free site that allows you to find, research and compare information on doctors and hospitals to find one that’s a good fit for you and your wallet. HealthCare.gov can help you to narrow down what you need from your health care and learn more about federal and state funded programs. Look out for discounts on coverage for students, good health records, and even community service hours — every little bit helps!