I'm Young and Healthy, But I Still Need Insurance
Shopping for a health insurance plan is kind of like shopping for a pair of good, reliable snow boots. I don't know when I'll need them, but I want to have them before it snows. Not only will they keep my feet dry and warm, I get to pick ones that suit my individual needs and style.
My snow boots are there for me when it snows — just like my health insurance is there when I have health care needs during the year. Some of my needs, like an annual well-woman visit or a flu shot, I can expect. But other needs can come up unexpectedly, especially if you like to travel and are active like me. A couple of years ago, my insurance really came in handy when I was traveling out of state on a camping trip. I hurt my hand and needed to go to the emergency room. I made sure the hospital was in my network and my insurance would cover most of the bill. In the end, it wasn't too dramatic, but it was certainly unexpected. In the past, I would have avoided going to the ER to avoid the cost, but it was a relief to be able to go and get my hand taken care of right away. To me, this is the perfect example of why young, healthy people still need insurance.
I know having to choose your own plan can feel confusing and overwhelming, but it's doable and worth it. I did it a couple of years ago. I had just graduated from my master's program and accepted my first fellowship position. I was given the option of choosing my own plan using the Affordable Care Act's Health Insurance Marketplace. Knowing all my options were in one place made the process feel less daunting, but I still had a million questions with no idea where to go to find the answers. If this sounds like you, don't worry. I'm here to tell you what you need to know so you can get covered! Check out the five things I wish someone had told me about applying for health insurance:
Know your dates and deadlines. Open enrollment runs until January 31, 2016.
Give yourself plenty of time to research and compare your plan options. When you choose a plan, it doesn't automatically go into effect. Your enrollment and first payment have to be processed through the exchange. It took four to six weeks for my plan to go into effect, but I was still retroactively covered in case there was an emergency. To avoid gaps in coverage, allow yourself plenty of time to compare your plan options. Plans can be confusing and you may have questions. Give yourself the time you need to get them answered. You can also find someone in your area who can help you apply.
Choose your plan carefully. Maybe you're healthy and don't anticipate using your insurance or maybe you have regular, predictable health care needs. No matter your situation there's a quality plan out there that fits your needs. When comparing plans, I found it helpful to look at plan summaries side by side to compare premiums (how much you pay for your plan every month), deductibles (what you're required to pay before the plan begins to pay), and copays (the amount you pay at the appointment).
Don't choose solely on the monthly premium. You might pick the plan with the lowest monthly costs, but it probably means you'll pay more when you get care than you would if you were paying higher monthly fees.
You might qualify for financial help. Depending on your income, you may be eligible for tax credits, which can lower your monthly costs. You can do a quick check to see if you'll save on health coverage. You may also qualify to save on the out-of-pocket costs you pay whenever you get health care.
Think about all of the preventive care benefits. Many of the services you'll use will be preventive services that help us check in and make sure everything is working as it should. What's great is they're available free of charge without cost-sharing, meaning easy access to well-woman visits, birth control (PDF, 913 KB), STI screenings, and other routine preventive care.
Learn more about applying for coverage by visiting HealthCare.gov today. For specific questions about how to evaluate your health insurance needs, check out this toolkit from the National Women's Law Center (PDF, 586 KB). If you need additional help applying for coverage, don't be afraid to ask for help. Everyone deserves great health coverage, including you.