Saturday, August 25, 2007

Help! I Need Affordable Health Insurance

From Bobbie Sage

Top 10 Ways to Get Affordable Health Insurance With No Job or Little Money

The statistics are startling when it comes to the outrageous uninsured Americans and the numbers keep getting bigger. But what do you do when you don't have a job and can't get affordable individual or family health insurance from an employer? Or, what about all the families that have jobs but still cannot afford the health insurance offered by their employers and can't find an option for affordable health insurance?

There are low cost health insurance options out there that, in fact, many Americans have already implemented and are beating the rising battle against being uninsured. In addition, more individual and family health insurance options are being brought into the market as the rising number of uninsured Americans increases. This is great news for people who just don't know what to do when it comes to obtaining low cost and affordable health insurance.

Below are the top 10 ways Americans are getting the affordable individual and family health insurance coverage they need.

1. COBRA: First, it is best to start with the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA). If you are not employed you may be eligible to continue your previous employers' health insurance through COBRA. This also applies to children going off to college... you also may be able to continue on your parent's health insurance coverage through COBRA. This is a very good option for people who may have lost their job and are still undergoing medical treatments. If you were to switch to another insurance plan, your current medical treatments may not qualify under the new health insurance plan. But.. WARNING! This will not be an affordable health insurance option. The premiums will be much higher and you may be able to better afford one of the below options first. It is best to gather all your available health insurance options and pick the best health insurance plan for you.

2. Workers' Compensation: Many people don't realize that they may be covered under their state's Workers' Compensation program. If you are being treated for any work related injury, your employer must offer you treatment under their Workers' Compensation program.

3. Medicaid: Don't automatically think that since you have a job you won't qualify for Medicaid. Medicaid will pay health care expenses for low-income families and individuals. Each state sets the eligibility requirements so qualifying for the program is state specific. If you are working and still don't have enough to buy affordable health insurance, it doesn't cost you a penny to see if you or your children qualify for Medicaid so it is always best to check Medicaid first before moving on to the next options. And, there is good news about Medicaid... more and more states are adding health care benefits for low-income families so if you don't qualify now, keep informed of your state's Medicaid and health insurance laws because you may qualify in the future.

4. Medicare: Most people know if they qualify for Medicare or not, but I need to add it to the list just to make sure it is not overlooked. Medicare is provided by the government and administered by the Social Security Administration. If you are sixty-five years old or older you would qualify for Medicare. You may also qualify if you are getting Social Security disability benefits.

5. State High Risk Health Insurance Pool: If you are turned down by individual health insurance companies because of pre-existing conditions, your state may have a high risk health insurance pool you can obtain health insurance from. It may not be an affordable health insurance choice, but it may be the only individual or family health insurance option available to you that will pay for your pre-existing conditions if you don't qualify for COBRA (see #1 of this list).

6. Individual and Family Health Insurance: This is where you just go to an insurance company and buy individual or family health insurance the same way you would by home or auto insurance. These plans work similar to what an employer would offer their employees but would be more expensive since you don't get the cheaper group rate and you would not have an employer contributing to some of the costs.

Another drawback of individual and family health insurance plans is that there is usually a pre-existing conditions clause (they may not cover pre-existing conditions or may not cover them until after a certain period of time) and a medical exam. If you do want to choose an individual or family health insurance policy, remember the higher the deductible you choose the lower your premium will be, but the more you will pay out of pocket when you go to the doctor or hospital. Getting a high deductible "emergency" policy is a better way to maintain a low cost health insurance plan and keeping a Health Savings Account for smaller health issues will probably save you money in the long run.

7. Short Term Health Insurance Coverage: This is a great affordable health insurance option for someone in-between jobs or who knows they will be starting a job soon. Short-term health insurance coverage works the same as an individual health insurance policy (see #6 above), but you will only be covered for a specific amount of time which would keep your premiums down. This is also a good option for someone who needs time to examine their individual and family health insurance choices but still would like to be covered quickly to avoid any coverage gaps.

8. Group Insurance from Organization Memberships: This is often an overlooked source of affordable or low cost health insurance. Some people are members of specific organizations that offer health insurance coverage. For example, people who are members of The Sacramento State Alumni Association can obtain a variety of insurance choices. Although these organizations often do not help pay the health insurance premiums like an employer would, the rates would be lower because of the group discount. So, figure out what organizations you are a member of and see if they offer group health insurance. You could also research organizations that provide group health insurance and join those groups, or even ask current organizations you are a member with to offer group health insurance. They may just not realize they could offer a plan to their members.

9. Group Health Expenses Sharing Plan: This is not insurance but works similar to it. This is when a group of people pool their money together and pay each others' health expenses... they pretty much become their own insurance company. The contributions are pooled together and usually invested in order to accrue interest on the pooled funds. It works well when there are a lot of people who contribute and everyone is only using the money for major medical expenses. There are religious groups that use this model successfully. Medi-Share is a popular health expense sharing plan and has been around since 1993. If you are interested in this option make sure you choose a group that has been around for a long time and has a good track record.

10. Health Insurance Discount Cards: Again, this is also not an insurance plan but can be a good source for getting low cost health services. There are many companies who offer affordable health insurance discount cards and they work like this: You pay a small monthly fee for a membership card and when you go to the doctor or hospital you will get a discounted rate on your services. These are not for everyone and one thing you have to remember is that if you had a catastrophic health crisis the discount on these cards is not a lot, so you would still have an enormous amount of bills left to pay. But, on the other hand, some people do choose to go this route and at least are able to get a discount on their doctor bills. These cards should not be used in place of insurance and if you choose this option you should still be working towards getting health insurance in the future.

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