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Navigating medical care can be challenging at any age. It’s particularly tough if you’re getting health insurance before turning 26.
Many young people are automatically covered by their family’s Obamacare plan until their 26th birthday. But if parental insurance isn’t an option for you, it can feel like you’re lost when searching for your own health insurance in your early 20s.
You may think that you don’t even need health insurance between ages 18 and 25 – especially if you exercise, don’t have any chronic conditions, and avoid prescription drugs.
But in some states, you have to pay hundreds of dollars in fees for simply going without health insurance.
And accidents or unexpected illness can happen to anyone, no matter how healthy you are. Hospital bills or other unexpected medical costs can reach ridiculous amounts of money – like tens of thousands of dollars.If you’re on your own for healthcare, there are plenty of ways to #getcovered. Click To Tweet
So, have no fear. Just because a lot of young people don’t think about health insurance until turning 26, doesn’t mean you’re without options.
Health Insurance for Students Under 26
Many colleges and universities offer healthcare plans for their students, including health insurance for 18-year-old freshmen as soon as they begin classes. If you’re working towards your degree, check your school’s website or contact student health services to find out the details of available student healthcare plans.
These programs are often fairly inexpensive and may even include vision and dental coverage. They can sometimes be discounted if you receive financial aid from your school.
Employer Health Insurance
If you have an employer that offers healthcare coverage, you can enroll at any age, even if you’re still eligible for your family’s insurance. Some employers offer multiple options with varying levels of coverage, which also means different price ranges. You can choose the plan that works best for you.
If you opt out of employer-sponsored coverage when you first start your job you’ll have to wait until the next open enrollment period to sign up for a plan, unless you need insurance because you turn 26 or otherwise qualify for special enrollment.
Online Obamacare Insurance Marketplaces and Healthcare UNDER 26
Enroll During Open Enrollment: Any young person can enroll in a healthcare plan on sites like HealthCare.com. Once again, you’ll have to sign up during the Open Enrollment Period which runs from November 1 – December 15 each year.
Enroll Because Your Current Plan Ended: If you leave your current health insurance plan for any reason, you have a 60-day window to join new ACA insurance. This could occur if you leave your family’s plan early or lose your employer-sponsored plan.
Buying insurance without price comparing your options can be pretty costly, so it’s a good idea to see if you qualify for one of the options listed below to save some money.
If you do opt to purchase a full-featured Obamacare plan, check to see if you qualify for an Affordable Care Act (ACA) subsidy, also known as premium tax credits. The subsidies are an Obamacare program that helps people pay for their monthly health insurance premiums and can make healthcare coverage much more affordable.
To qualify for ACA subsidies, your minimum household income must be at least 100 percent of the poverty level, and cannot exceed 400 percent of the poverty level. This is based on your estimated yearly income, so it’s quite possible to meet this level even if you work full-time for part of the year.
When you look at the income requirements, remember that you’ll have to purchase a health policy as an individual. Even if you’d like to help your family out, you cannot add parents to health insurance to file as a family – only children and spouses count as dependents.
Another option for affordable healthcare is Medicaid. Medicaid is a government-run program designed to provide healthcare for low income individuals. Each state sets its own coverage guidelines. But at the very least, Medicaid thoroughly covers the basics like doctors appointments, lab services, and family planning.
Individual states also set their own requirements for Medicaid eligibility, but income is always a factor. Like with Obamacare subsidies, your income is typically used as a determinant for eligibility. Only a handful of states have work requirements to get Medicaid, and even those states do not apply those requirements right away.
Catastrophic Health Insurance
If you’re comparing plans and feel that all of the monthly premiums are more than you want to or can afford to pay – but you do want to protect yourself in case of an emergency – then catastrophic health insurance may be the way to go. This Obamacare plan type isn’t great at paying for regular doctor visits but it will protect you from major hospital bills.
Catastrophic plans are exclusively for young people under the age of 30 (or anyone who qualifies for certain exemptions) and features lower monthly costs than typical health insurance plans. Catastrophic insurance always comes with a high deductible, meaning you’ll have to pay a pretty high amount on your own before any coverage kicks in.
Most people with catastrophic policies never reach their full deductible, so you pay all of your medical expenses for the year out-of-pocket. Although catastrophic plans are typically seen as cheap health insurance for young adults, that means they’re actually not a good idea for someone with a chronic condition that requires regular treatments or frequent visits to a specialist.
But if you’re generally healthy and do not require any expensive emergency care, catastrophic insurance will still save you money (and give you peace of mind) over the course of the year since your monthly payment is lower than standard plans.
Short-Term Plans for People 25 and Under
“Can my parents kick me off their health insurance?” Yes, they can, and they are not required to give you notice (no matter how unfair this may seem if you’re suddenly kicked out and without coverage).
Whereas Obamacare plans are required to charge younger people almost the same amount as older people, short-term plans can give you a fair price based on your age. However, short-term plans are different than Obamacare plans in that they do not have to cover pre-existing conditions, pregnancy, or certain uncommon health issues.
If you’re ever in a situation without health insurance, look into short-term health insurance. In some cases, you can be insured within a day of submitting your application and payment.
Like catastrophic health insurance, short-term medical insurance is designed to protect you in case of an emergency or disaster. Short-term plans are similar to catastrophic plans in that they have low premiums and high deductibles, and will protect you from extremely expensive, emergency medical costs while you’re in-between insurance plans.
How Long Can You Stay on Short-Term Plans?
Unlike catastrophic insurance, short-term plans are not designed for year-long coverage. You generally make your plan last between 30 and 364 days, and if necessary can re-apply for another renewal after the plan has expired (but your insurer can deny the renewal and ask you to move to Obamacare if you’ve developed a serious illness).
It’s important to note that short-term insurance does not have to follow the pre-existing condition coverage guarantee, so it may be difficult to get this kind of coverage if you do have a pre-existing condition like asthma or diabetes. Even if you do qualify, short-term insurance is usually presented as a fallback option for coverage, not the plan that you rely on for the entire year.
Compare Your Early 20s Insurance Choices
Whether you’re purchasing your own insurance because you want to help your parents save money, or you feel you don’t have privacy on parents’ health insurance, or you’re kicked off the family plan, or for any other reason, you definitely have options. It’s possible to get under 26 health insurance in low-cost ways.
Before joining a health insurance plan, you’ll research and compare choices so that you find a plan with the right price and level of coverage. Search HealthCare.com to see what options are available for young people in your area, or feel free to call a health insurance agent via HealthCare.com who will give you extra help with the process.