Trying to figure out how to get health insurance can be super stressful. So many options, so little time. But you know you need it—you just might not know where to start.
That’s why we put together this helpful guide to show you how to get health insurance.
Don’t worry! You’re on the right track. A solid health insurance plan is one of the best defensive strategies for your finances. The number one reason Americans file bankruptcy is from those pesky medical bills.1 But you’re not going to let that happen to you.
We’ll show you how to get health insurance so you can make sure you and your family are covered.
1. Employer-Sponsored Group Plans
The best place to start when you’re looking into how to get health insurance is with your employer. In 2021, 155 million people signed up for coverage through an employer-based group health insurance plan.2 Employers offer health insurance benefits to their employees as a way to attract and keep good talent. Plus, companies with over 50 full-time workers are required to offer health benefits to comply with the 2010 Affordable Care Act (ACA).
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Group insurance through your employer can be cheaper for two main reasons: 1) Employers get a discount by buying in bulk (just like when you’re buying that 100-pack of paper towels). 2) The employer often shares the cost of coverage with their employees.
Check with your friendly human resources department to find out what kind of health insurance plans your company offers, like a health maintenance organization (HMO) plan or preferred provider organization (PPO). If your employer offers a high-deductible plan, you can also start a Health Savings Account (HSA). HSAs are tax-advantaged accounts you can use to pay for medical expenses tax-free now and in the future. You’ll also have the option to add your spouse or children (so you’re covered when little Johnny breaks his arm at ball practice).
Certain professional organizations and unions also offer group plans. So if you’re not happy with your employer’s options, check out other organizations you’re part of. You don’t have to choose your employer’s plan.
2. Government-Run Marketplace (Healthcare.gov)
Now, what if you get sticker shock looking at the price tag of your employer’s plan? Don’t throw up your hands just yet. You can still figure out how to get health insurance.
You’ve heard of Healthcare.gov—the government-run marketplace? The marketplace was created after the ACA bill and is another great option. It offers plans from 175 insurance companies.3 But you can only get coverage during open enrollment period—unless you’ve had certain major life events, and then you’re allowed to sign up outside of open enrollment. (Open enrollment for 2022 coverage was from November 1, 2021, until December 15, 2021, and you can sign up for 2023 coverage starting November 1, 2022.)
Go to Healthcare.gov and plug in your zip code. (You can also enroll by phone.) The website will guide you through the process or point you toward state marketplace options. You can also see if you qualify for Medicaid, tax subsidies or, if you have kids, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). These tax credits are only available through the marketplace.
Marketplace plans use metal categories to separate different types of health care plans: bronze, silver, gold and platinum. (Catastrophic plans are also available for some people.) Each category is based on how you and the plan share medical costs.
3. Options if You’re Self-employed
If you’re self-employed, you’re your own boss, so you’ll need to get yourself coverage.
Start with the marketplace. Depending on your income and family size, you could get some of those tax credits to lower your premium.
Next, keep in mind you can always buy health insurance straight from insurers (more on that in a bit).
And you might qualify for a self-employed health insurance income tax deduction. This would allow you to deduct 100% of your health insurance premiums from your adjusted gross income when you file your income taxes every year.4 But the tax break doesn’t apply to small businesses—only individuals.
4. Health Insurance if You’re Unemployed or Retired
If you don’t have a job, you can still get health insurance. You can go through the marketplace, or you might qualify for Medicaid, CHIP or Medicare. You could also look into joining a spouse’s or parents’ plan (if you’re under age 26).
If you recently left your job, check out COBRA health insurance. (COBRA stands for Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act.) COBRA allows you to keep your previous employer’s health coverage for up to 36 months.5 But it’s usually more expensive since your employer won’t be paying part or all of the premium anymore.
If you’re retired, and over the age of 65, you can get Medicare. Medicare is a health insurance program run by the government for those age 65 and older. If you’re retired but not yet 65, you’ll still be able to get insurance on the marketplace.
5. Buying From Health Insurance Companies
Some people don’t realize this, but you can also get coverage directly from health insurers. Not all insurers are on the Healthcare.gov marketplace. So you might be able to find better options this way. Just make sure you understand what you’re signing up for. Health insurance can be confusing. (This is why we recommend working with an independent health insurance agent who can shop for you and explain what you’re paying for.)
And if you’re between jobs, or you retired early and aren’t old enough for Medicare, you could go with short-term health insurance. These policies last 30 to 90 days but come with some drawbacks. They usually don’t cover as much as other plans would and can also be pricier.
6. Online Health Insurance Exchanges
Health insurance exchanges are private “marketplaces” set up online by brokers where you can compare and buy policies. They’re separate from the government-run marketplace and offer resources to make sure you get the plan you need. But be warned. These private-run exchanges are commission-based, so the plans you’re shown might not be the best for you.
7. Health Care Sharing Ministries
Health care sharing ministries are when a group of people get together and pool their money together to share medical expenses. They’re not technically insurance. But they can be a good option if you’re healthy with no dependents.
It’s like if everyone put $300 a month in a bucket. Then when someone has a health emergency, the plan administrators pull money from the bucket to cover that family’s need.
There is some fine print though. Health care sharing ministries sometimes have restrictions on what they will cover. And they’re not regulated by the ACA, so they don’t have to cover preexisting conditions.
8. Work With an Independent Agent
If you opt out of your employer’s plan, or you’re just exploring your options, one of the best ways to get health insurance is to use an independent agent. Independent agents are not captive to a certain insurance company. So they don’t have a financial interest in pushing certain plans on you (no one likes to be pushed). They can look at your specific needs and shop for you to find the best coverage.
How Much Does Health Insurance Cost?
Now that you know how to get health insurance, let’s see how much health insurance costs. Brace yourself . . .
The average American family paid $5,969 in 2021 for employer-sponsored health insurance.6 The total cost of annual premiums (employer and employee) in 2021 for employer-offered family coverage rose 4% over 2020 to $22,221. And the average deductible was $1,669 for single coverage in plans with a general annual deductible.7
And if you’ve wondered lately if health insurance is getting more expensive, you’re not wrong. We hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the trend is moving in the wrong direction. Over the last five years, the average premium went up 22%.8
Even though it’s expensive, health insurance is still the best way to pay for medical expenses. And it’s a good shield against budget-busting health care bills that could set you back from achieving your goals.
Get Free Quotes
If you’re ready to get health insurance, our network of independent health insurance agents can help. They’re part of our Endorsed Local Providers (ELP) program and can do your shopping for you. They’ll do all the heavy lifting so you can get back to the things only you can do.
Plus, they’re RamseyTrusted, so you know you’ll be working with top agents. Your health is too important to leave to chance. Don’t put this off.