How to Buy Affordable Health Insurance on Your Own?
You’re not alone if you need to buy an affordable health insurance plan. For the third consecutive year, the number of uninsured individuals in the United States doubled in 2019, increasing by more than one million from 2018. We’ll go over each health plan option so you can decide which path is best for you.
We’ve simplified the health insurance buying process into a few simple steps. Before we begin, you should read our health insurance guide to understand how health insurance works. There is also a state-by-state guide to Open Enrollment.
Option 1: Buy Your Plan through the Government’s Health Insurance Marketplace
Marketplace Health Insurance is also known as the health insurance exchange. Depending on your household income and eligibility for other health plans, you might be qualified for subsidies (also known as premium tax credits) when you buy health insurance coverage through the Marketplace.
You can buy an insurance policy through the Marketplace even if you are eligible for health insurance through your employer. It will not affect your eligibility if you find a better plan for your situation. However, if you have access to job-based coverage, you are unlikely to be eligible for subsidies.
The open enrollment window for 2022 coverage begins on November 1, 2021. You must sign up by December 15 for a health plan to start on January 1, 2022. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the annual enrollment period was extended from February 15 to May 15 in 2021.
State exchanges might have different enrollment windows. It’s critical to buy a health insurance policy during this enrollment period. It’s because you won’t be able to do so for the remainder of the year unless you have specific life changes such as getting married, having a child, or relocating.
You can apply in person, online, or over the phone. If you need assistance applying, you can cooperate with a Marketplace assister, a certified application counselor, or in-person assistance personnel. To buy a health insurance plan, you need to be a U.S. citizen or be legally present in the country.
Option 2: Work with a Broker or Agent
An agent or broker can assist you in finding the best policy for you because they have experience in comparing different health insurance plans. The health government’s “Find Local Help” tool can help you find a marketplace-trained private insurance agent. To learn about the other options and get the least biased suggestion, you may want to work with an agent who sells Marketplace and private insurance plans.
Brokers are compensated by health insurance companies when they sell policies. Thus, brokers do not charge fees or insurance premiums from their consumers. The term “agent” usually refers to someone who only sells health plans from one insurance company. And “broker” refers to someone who sells health programs from several insurance companies.
Private brokers might also show you health insurance options on the personal enrollment sites provided by various insurance companies and web brokers. However, if you want to be qualified for subsidies, you must apply through InsuranceShopping.com or your state exchange.
The government’s health policies assisters will only show you coverage plans available through your state insurance company. Remember that all these insurance programs are eligible for subsidies, and assister help is free of cost.
Option 3: Buy Coverage through Membership Organization
Suppose you are a member of a union, professional organization, alumni association, or another large group. In that situation, you might be able to buy a health insurance plan through this membership at the group rates.
For example, Freelancer’s Union provides health insurance through its corporation, Freelancers Insurance Company, and through one of its associates, HealthPlanServices.
When shopping for health insurance through a union or membership organization, ensure you’re getting the insurance coverage rather than just a health services discount plan. Discount plans may help you save money on prescriptions or eyeglasses, but they will not assist you if you develop cancer. Also, even if the association is a non-profit organization, it may be affiliated with or even established by a for-profit insurance company that sells health plans to different association members.
Option 4: Buy through an Online Health Insurance Brokers
Online health insurance brokerage, also known as private enrollment or private exchange sites, offers to help you compare insurance plans or get the best coverage available based on the information you provide.
Comparison shopping is a good idea, but consumers should understand that these web pages will not show them each policy available in the market that meets their needs.
Instead, these commercial exchanges will display a collection of policies that help them earn a commission if the customer enrolls. They may highlight or provide more information about the insurance plan that generates the brokerage a higher commission.
These advertising benefits do not necessarily imply that the plans available on these websites are not good. It simply means that customers should be aware that they may not be getting an accurate picture of their options when they visit these exchange websites.
Private insurance companies may ask you for personal data that online health governments portals do not need. They may ask you for information about your weight, height, and preexisting condition, which may affect your eligibility for policies that do not comply with the Obamacare or Affordable Care Act.
As with buying a program directly from the health insurance agency, you will not be eligible for subsidies (premium tax credits) if you purchase your health insurance plan through the private exchange.
Option 5: Buy Health Plan directly from an Insurance Company
The Marketplace health insurance does not include all available health coverage programs, and some people may find a plan that best meets their coverage needs or budget outside of the Marketplace. When you search for a policy on the website of a single insurer, you will, of course, only see health options from that insurer. You will need to visit the websites of several insurers to see all of your available options if you want to buy health insurance directly.
ACA-compliant policies sold outside of state and federal exchanges must meet the ACA’s minimum standards, such as covering preexisting conditions, providing preventive care, and offering primary health benefits without any out-of-pocket costs before you reach your deductible. You can also purchase non-ACA-compliant short-term plans (up to one year) with fewer benefits and more exclusions outside of the exchanges. If you are getting coverage through a private insurance company, be sure to read their terms and conditions.
Furthermore, if you do not apply through the state Marketplace, you will not be eligible for subsidies. If your state has its health insurance Marketplace, you should buy your insurance plan through it to ensure that your program qualifies for compensation.
You might not be concerned if your income is too high to qualify for subsidies. However, if you earn less than expected in the following year, you may find yourself unexpectedly qualifying for premium subsidies, so you might want to keep your health options open. Subsidies under Obamacare are calculated based on your income in the year you purchase coverage. When you register, you will only be given an estimate of your donations based on the projected income.
Beware of Healthcare-Sharing Organizations
Healthcare-sharing organizations may appeal to healthy individuals looking for affordable coverage, but they don’t provide actual health insurance. Instead, they offer a plan where people of the same religious faith contribute to a fund that the ministry distributes to its members to cover specific healthcare costs. These organizations typically do not cover preexisting medical conditions, and may charge higher interest rates based on health problems, and do not promise compensation even for a medical condition they do cover.
Can I Buy Health Insurance Coverage that is not Obamacare (ACA)?
Yes, you can buy health insurance that is not Obamacare, but there are significant disadvantages to doing so.
First, it is critical to understand that Obamacare is simply another name for the ACA (Affordable Care Act). Obamacare sets the rules and standards for health insurance purchased by people below age 65. You are most likely getting Obamacare when you buy a health insurance plan on your own rather than through an employer. If your plan’s name includes the words bronze, silver, gold, or platinum, then it’s Obamacare.
What are the Alternatives to Obamacare?
There are numerous alternatives for health insurance coverage that are not Obamacare. These ACA or Obamacare substitutes typically have an extensive network of doctors.
- Christian health ministries, also known as faith-based healthcare, are religious organizations that exchange the cost of medical care among their members. Insurance premiums can go up to $100 per month. These insurance plans have distinct rules about what they do and do not cover. It is estimated that about 1 million Americans are registered in faith-based programs.
- Short-term health insurance can provide coverage for up to 364 days and has monthly premiums as low as $50. It will not cover preexisting medical conditions or long-term health conditions. So, you need to pay hundreds of dollars out-of-pocket before it shares the expenses of your medical care services. Short-term plans are designed to provide affordable and low-cost emergency care facilities. Short-term insurance policies are popular among students, travelers, and those awaiting the start of comprehensive coverage. The federal government estimated that an additional 600,000 programs would be sold in 2019 when it changed the rules on short-term plans. There aren’t any federal tax penalties for relying on short-term insurance, but it is not available in all states.
- Fixed-indemnity plans, also known as critical illness plans, give you predetermined costs if you are diagnosed with a specific disease (such as cancer) or get into a severe accident (i.e., losing a limb). There are no longer official tax penalties if you use a fixed indemnity plan to replace Obamacare coverage.
- Paying for insurance coverage on your own might be a good option, though it is not affordable.
Buy separate Health Insurance Plans
Also, you can buy separate health insurance for specific needs, such as vision or dental coverage, from a variety of insurers. Obamacare plans are not mandated to provide coverage for vision and dental care.
If you have a low income, you can buy Medicaid coverage. Each state has different requirements for receiving Medicaid, so you must renew it at least once a year.
According to Obamacare, your primary medical health plan must follow specific coverage rules and provide certain consumer protections. On one side, Obamacare insurance would not deny coverage because of your preexisting medical condition. On the other side, Obamacare programs will charge you for ten essential health benefits, including those you do not want.
Where to Buy Affordable Health Insurance?
The affordable health plan used to seem like a pipe dream, but the passage of the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare changed that for many Americans. Thanks to the sweeping medical care reform signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2010, families with earnings ranging from 100 percent to 400 percent of the FPL (federal poverty level) became eligible for premium subsidies to bring health insurance expenses within reach. Furthermore, the Medicaid policy for low-income families was expanded to cover individuals earning less than 138 percent of the FPL (federal poverty line).
Even so, some U.S. citizens face difficulties in finding affordable health insurance premiums, particularly those at the higher end of the premium tax credit range and beyond. Regardless of where users fall on those scales, the best way to find low-cost health insurance is to shop around among different insurance companies and compare policies based on what they offer, your annual out-of-pocket costs, your monthly premiums, and other details. Insuranceshopping.com compared some of the leading providers in this field to identify the best affordable health insurance companies available today.
Best Low-Cost Health Insurance Companies in 2021
- Excellent Short-Term Plan: UnitedHealthcare
- Best for remote workers: Blue Cross or Blue Shield
- Good Employee Coverage: Cigna
- Excellent for Convenience: Oscar
- Best for HSA (Health Savings Plan) Option: Kaiser Permanente
- Best for Medigap and Medicare Advantage Plans: Humana
1) UnitedHealthcare (Best for Short-Term Coverage)
UnitedHealthcare company is famous for providing short-term health insurance that’s why we chose it for our ranking. This type of plan can be valuable if you are between business-based programs or require temporary protection for any reason.
- Large company profile
- Short-term health insurance is available.
- Provides ACA-compliant plans
- Some short-term policies are not available in all states.
- According to J.D. Power’s 2021 U.S. Commercial Healthcare Study, almost all regions received lower-than-average ratings.
UnitedHealthcare was established in 1977, but it has grown significantly and serves more than 70 million customers. This company also works directly with over 1.3 million doctors and healthcare suppliers and 6,500 hospitals and health centers across the United States. We chose UnitedHealthcare company for our ranking based on their short-term health options, which help consumers bridge gaps between plans.
UnitedHealthcare’s short-term insurance might be a good option if you wait for coverage to begin, missed annual enrollment for the ACA, or are in between jobs. You can be covered the same day you apply for health insurance. Also, you can customize your coverage duration and deductible. Also, you can drop your short-term coverage without penalty if a long-term insurance option becomes available.
It’s worth noting that Golden Rule Insurance Agency, which has an A rating from AM Best for financial strength, funds all of UnitedHealthcare’s short-term health insurance plans.
2) Kaiser Permanente (Best for HSA Option)
We selected Kaiser Permanente company because it manages its own HSA (Health Savings Accounts), which can help you save for medical care expenses tax-free.
- Kaiser provides its own HSA.
- ACA-compliant plans are available for adults and families.
- Several best ratings in J.D. Power’s 2021 U.S. Commercial Healthcare Study
- Coverage is accessible only in eight regions and Washington DC.
Kaiser began offering health insurance policies to the general public in 1945 and has advanced to become one of the state’s largest nonprofit health insurance companies. Kaiser serves around 12.5 million people in eight regions and Washington state.
When you combine a Kaiser Permanente high premium health plan (HDHP) with the Health Savings Accounts, you receive a convenient insurance card that allows you to cover qualifying expenses with your HSA grants directly and without additional paperwork. There are no additional fees associated with your HSA plan, and the $3.25 monthly plan fee is waived if you maintain an HSA credit balance of $2,000 or more.
Kaiser also provides ACA-compliant plans in your region, so you might be eligible to use subsidies to make your premiums more affordable.
3) Cigna (Best Employee Coverage)
We chose Cigna because it provides the best coverage for workers due to policy features that you might be eligible for. Benefits that stand out include free annual checkups, a 24-hour health line, and a mobile app.
- Free routine treatments.
- Contact a nurse 24 hours a day and seven days a week.
- Multiple coverage options are available.
- Several best ratings in J.D. Power’s 2021 U.S. Commercial Healthcare Study
- Only 13 regions offer ACA-compliant individual and family plans.
Cigna was founded in 1793, making it one of the world’s oldest insurance companies. While Cigna has limited coverage across the country, we chose them for our ranking based on the unique benefits they provide to individuals and their employee policies.
Cigna members enjoy benefits such as free annual checkups and a 24-hour health line where they can call and have their health questions answered by a caretaker. The myCigna mobile app can also assist you in keeping track of your health care, medical bills, and overall healthcare goals.
Several programs are available to employers who choose this option, including vision, dental, pharmaceutical, and health care coverage. While employee programs are available, Cigna has expanded its ACA-compliant services to serve 13 regions in 2022.
4) Oscar (Best for Convenience)
Oscar company was chosen as the most convenient option. It has a mobile app and numerous ways to save time and money on medical care via video chat or phone.
- App for mobile devices
- Consult a doctor for free.
- Plans that comply with the ACA (Affordable Care Act) are available in eligible coverage areas.
- Shorter company records than most competitors.
- Fewer reviews and ratings to compare.
- Plans are only available in 19 states.
Oscar, a technologically based health insurance company, was founded in 2012, so it lacks the long history of some of its competitors. Nonetheless, they serve over 560,000 people in 497 counties across 19 regions. They intend to expand their services to 22 states soon. This means that their service area remains limited, but you may still find benefit in their plans if you live in one of their insurance areas.
Finally, we chose Oscar company for our ranking based on their digital medical care experience, which includes a mobile application and the ability to book medical care appointments through video or the phone.
Oscar’s mobile app makes it easy for consumers to keep a digital I.D. card, find in-network providers, and book appointments. You can handle tasks like preventive care or prescription renewals through video chat or phone. With Oscar’s Virtual Emergency Care and Virtual Doctor Care, you can also schedule unlimited virtual appointments for $0.01.
5) Humana (Best for Medigap and Medicare Advantage Plans)
Humana was chosen because of its many M.A. plan health options, making sense for Medicare beneficiaries looking for additional coverage.
- Some plans provide benefits not required by Medicare Parts A and B.
- All Medicare Advantage policies included a list of offered services
- Some better-than-average and top ratings in J.D. Power’s 2021 U.S. Commercial Healthcare Study.
- Some policies are not available in all regions.
- Humana no longer provides conventional individual health insurance.
Humana was established in 1961 and is well-known for its skilled nursing facilities. But it has grown to become one of the largest health insurance agencies in the United States. We preferred them for our ranking based on their generous Medigap and Medicare Advantage coverage options.
Humana Medicare Advantage plans are available in various forms, including PPO plans, HMO plans, SNP plans, and PPFS plans. While health options vary, their Medicare Advantage options provide primary healthcare benefits. These services include hospital stays and emergency transport, telehealth visits, preventative treatment and doctor’s visits, medical equipment and supplies, and outpatient care. You can also obtain coverage for Lab work, screening, X-rays, and imaging.
Humana offers a wide range of Medicare Supplementary plans or Humana Medigap plans. These policies are distinct from Medicare Advantage plans and are available in most states. Like Medicare Advantage plans, Medigap policies can help fill coverage gaps left by traditional Medicare plans.
The Bottom Line
Though these companies we profiled might be the most affordable options available. However, keep in mind that your premiums may be lower or higher depending on your household size, location, and whether or not you are eligible for subsidies on plans offered by your state exchange or online health government portals. Check your eligibility for Marketplace health insurance plans through Insurance Shopping and enroll right away!