Even with the Affordable Care Act, insurance coverage can still be expensive, especially if you are under-employed, part-time, or your employer does not offer a healthcare plan. But there are options for getting covered if you are on a tight budget.
Having at least minimal health insurance is essential for protecting assets like your home or car and preventing overwhelming medical debt in the case of a medical emergency or severe illness. Read on to learn more about what to do if you can’t afford health insurance.
Options To Consider If You Can’t Afford Health Insurance:
Taking care of your health
Short-term health insurance
Applying for Medicaid
Health savings account
1. Taking Care of Your Health
Good self-care—although always important—should be at the top of your priority list if you are currently without health insurance. That includes eating well, getting enough sleep, and regular exercise, but it also means taking your prescribed medications as directed and not skipping necessary doctor visits.
It may seem counterintuitive to stress the importance of medical care when a person doesn’t have insurance. But failing to take needed medications and missing checkups could put you into a health crisis that requires serious medical intervention and hospitalization.
While finding money in the budget to pay for a $100 doctor appointment may be difficult, it’s nothing compared to a $100,000 hospital bill.
You can maintain a high level of self-care and still cut costs with the following tips:
Ask your doctor or pharmacist about generic substitutes for prescription medications
Watch for free or discounted mini-clinics at your pharmacy or medical center
Only visit the emergency room for true medical emergencies; urgent care clinics charge less
Lastly, don’t be afraid to shop around for diagnostic tests when they are needed. It is your right as a patient to choose where your tests are performed. Most doctors know which labs charge the least for the tests they order. If they don’t, make a few phone calls yourself to find out.
2. Short-Term Medical Insurance
Short-term plans provide comprehensive, affordable coverage for a specific, limited amount of time. Current federal regulations allow short-term medical plans to span a minimum of 30 days and a maximum of 364 days. In some states, you can purchase additional coverage after the initial policy expires.
When applying for short-term insurance, you can choose your coverage start date, typically any time from one to 60 days after the application is complete. And you can cancel at any time without penalty.
Some short-term providers offer additional benefits like telemedicine consultations, prescription-drug saving plans, and discounts on vision care and other products.
Policy prices are much lower than the cost of long-term coverage, with some costing less than $100 per month, depending on the individual's situation.
But remember, short-term health insurance is not a substitution for long-term coverage. It fills the gap if you have lost coverage due to job loss or other changes in employment.
3. Catastrophic Coverage
When you’re trying to figure out what to do when you can’t afford more comprehensive health insurance, a catastrophic policy might be the answer. Catastrophic healthcare plans are available through the ACA marketplace.
Disadvantages to catastrophic coverage include high deductibles and limited services. It is also only available to people under 30 years of age or individuals who qualify for a hardship exemption.
Advantages of this option are affordability and the peace of mind in knowing you’ll be covered if you experience a true medical emergency.
4. Applying for Medicaid
If you can’t afford healthcare, you may be eligible to receive Medicaid and not realize it. Medicaid is a federal- and state-administered health insurance covering millions of low-income Americans, including children, adults, the elderly, and people with disabilities.
After the Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010, some states opted to expand Medicaid benefits, opening eligibility to more people. In the states that expanded Medicaid, all people making 100% to 138% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) qualify for benefits.
In states that did not expand Medicaid, only families who earn less than the FPL are eligible.
Use the calculator at Healthcare.gov to learn if you meet Medicaid eligibility requirements in your state.
5. Health Savings Account
A health savings account, or HSA, allows you to put away money for future medical costs and enjoy a tax break at the same time. Deposits into an HSA are tax-free, and most states also offer additional tax breaks on deposited funds.
The interest-bearing account belongs to you, and you can access the funds at any time for any use. However, until you reach 65, there is a penalty for withdrawing from your HSA to cover non-medical expenses.
To set up a health savings account, ask your bank or credit union. Deposits can be deducted directly from your pre-taxed paycheck or income tax. Employers can also contribute to their employees’ HSA.
It is important to note that enrollment in a Health Savings Account is dependent on already being enrolled in a qualified High-Deductible Health Plan (HDHP). Additionally, a health savings account is not a substitute for health insurance and is often used to supplement a less costly high-deductible plan or Medicare.
Being without health insurance can end up being the most expensive risk you ever took. The lack of healthcare that typically accompanies a lack of health insurance can even put your life at risk.
For some people, the decision to go without health insurance comes down to a choice of paying for rent and food or paying an insurance premium. If you’re in the position of wondering what to do if you can’t afford health insurance, some of the options outlined above can help. Using short-term health insurance, catastrophic coverage, a health savings plan, or Medicaid can all help provide at least some coverage until your situation changes.
Whatever you do, don’t stop taking care of yourself because you don’t have health insurance. In fact, without health insurance coverage, self-care is more important than ever. Being in good health will make it easier to get coverage again once you can afford it.