Health insurance is so important, but it’s not on a lot of young people’s radar screens unless you start a family or get sick.
If your parents, university, or full-time employer provides health insurance, fortunately you don’t have to spend much time thinking about it. But what if you’re self employed or work only part-time? What if you’re employed today but lose your job tomorrow? Do you know where to turn for health insurance?
Why You Need Health Insurance
In case you don’t think you need health insurance, consider the possibility that you could be hit by a bus on the way home tonight. Next, consider the average costs of some regular medical expenses based on data from ChangeHealthcare.com, a site where consumers can share and compare medical expenses:
- Emergency room visit: $1,200
- MRI: $1,800
- X-Ray: $250–$600
- Fracture: $500–$3,000
Finally, consider that every other test, every follow-up appointment, and every prescription you need will dramatically add to the above costs. Health insurance, even a minimal amount, is one of the smartest financial decisions you can make.
Health Insurance for the Unemployed and Self-Employed
The reason why health insurance is such an important employee benefit is because it’s so expensive, and employers get discounts for buying group policies for all their employees. That said, freelancers, entrepreneurs, part-time workers, and everybody else not working for the man can go out and buy health insurance on their own. It’s just expensive. Comprehensive health insurance plans for a single policyholder can be well above $500 a month.
Of course, these kinds of health insurance policies—HMOs and PPOs—are expensive because they let you see most doctors for a $20 copay and will require very little additional out-of-pocket expenses, no matter what happens to you.
You can, however, get much more affordable plans that may not reimburse your gym fees and acupuncture sessions, but will save you tens of thousands if you wipe out snowboarding this weekend and end up in a body cast. These so-called catastrophic health insurance plans can be yours for much less. Regular checkups and prescriptions may not be covered under these plans, but they’ll kick in to cover the big expenses if you require procedures or a hospital stay.
If you recently left your job—whether you were laid off or quit—you are also eligible for COBRA health insurance. Under federal law, you can continue to subscribe to the health policy you were receiving at work for up to 18 months, but you’ll have to pay the entire premium. (Most employers pay a big percentage of this while you’re on the payroll). Therefore, COBRA coverage will end up being expensive and you might be better off with a cheaper catastrophic plan.
Finding Your Own Health Insurance
There are a number of health insurance comparison Websites out there on which you can search and compare health plans based upon your needs. One site, eHealthInsurance, stands out in part for the sheer number of options it provides—thousands of health plans from hundreds of providers.
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