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Whether you’re scheduling your annual physical, getting ready for a periodic screening like a colonoscopy, or running to urgent care because of the flu, there's no question you want affordable health insurance. Affordable insurance is a must. There are so many moving pieces to insurance plans that can make them confusing. Fortunately, affordable, accessible health care exists in a variety of options.

Open Enrollment

Open Enrollment

Open enrollment is the period during which most people apply or re-apply for cheap health insurance. Portals in the health insurance marketplace open, and you can either stay with the plan you’ve selected during the last open enrollment season or make changes to accommodate any new or different needs that have come up in the last year. Sometimes there are guidelines about exactly which changes you can make when. For more detailed information, see your state’s marketplace or the federal marketplace guidelines.

Special Enrollment Periods

Perhaps you’re aging off of your family’s affordable insurance plan, moved to a part-time job, moved to a new state, or encountered one of a million other situations that means you need to enroll in a cheap health insurance plan. These circumstances that fall outside of a typical enrollment or re-enrollment period are called special enrollment periods. Your insurance carrier will want to verify the proof of your situation before your coverage starts. This means securing a letter stating the discontinuation of a former plan, new workplace or residential documentation, or any other qualifying evidence stating that you are indeed eligible to apply.

Affordable Marketplace Insurance

Once that’s addressed, you’ll likely start with a marketplace or centralized website of affordable insurance options. Some states have their own marketplaces, while others use a federal hub. Most individuals are screened for Medicare and/or Medicaid eligibility depending on age, income, and other factors. Affordable health insurance quotes are available based on your complete set of circumstances. If you are found to qualify for either of these plans, you’ll follow their specific enrollment guidelines.

Pieces of a Plan

Understanding relationships between pharmacy costs, copays for office visits, deductibles, hospital bills, and other fees can be intimidating. Fortunately, there is typically an overview document that you can view while you compare health care plans. This will tell you how much to anticipate for each of these costs. Affordable health insurance quotes from health insurance companies include all the requisite pieces, including information about whether your current health care provider is inside or outside the plan network. Private vs. Public Plans in addition to plans through a state or federal marketplace, private plans are available through individual health insurance companies. By contacting private health insurance member services departments directly about health insurance quotes, you can investigate the different plan options they have available for cheap health insurance and select the right one for you. Sometimes knowing someone who is enrolled in a particular kind of private health insurance company’s affordable insurance plan through an employer will get you a deal on a plan of your own. Private health insurance plans can be more expensive, but generally, offer slightly more comprehensive coverage than public plans.

With that said, public plans purchased through a marketplace allow for tax credits depending on a household’s income and number of family members. This is a perk absent from private health insurance plans. Federal poverty guidelines are utilized to calculate tax credit amount, which can be applied toward premium payments for cheap health insurance. Private health insurance quotes do not include tax credits of any kind.

Ensuring you enroll in medical insurance means you’ll avoid a tax penalty during tax season. You’ll be charged if you are without affordable insurance during the year; make sure you pay attention to enrollment periods for all relevant affordable health insurance companies to avoid any coverage gaps.

Metal Levels

Thankfully, health plans through the marketplace are broken down into metal levels ranging from bronze, silver, and gold to platinum. The levels signify the amount and comprehensiveness of coverage. Beyond metal levels, different types of plans allow you to see a smaller or larger network of providers. Factoring this in if you are accustomed to seeing particular specialists is especially important.

If you take a significant amount of medications regularly, are seen frequently by providers, and enjoy being able to see providers regardless of which networks they fall into, you may want to consider a “silver” or “gold” level plan. Usually, these have lower deductibles, mid-range co-pays, pharmaceutical discounts, and substantial monthly premiums. Higher metal levels mean higher monthly premiums with lower out of pocket costs.

Alternately, if you do not typically use a lot of healthcare services, you may be more comfortable paying a lower monthly premium in exchange for slightly higher co-pays, prescription costs, and hospital fees. These plans are leveled between “silver” and “bronze.” Lower metal levels mean lower monthly premiums with higher out of pocket costs.

Know Yourself

The term “affordable” when it comes to medical insurance has more to do with individual circumstances than anything else. A metal level is not a “good” to “bad” scale; it has everything to do with individual circumstances. The most important thing is to know yourself and the patterns that typically come up regarding how you utilize healthcare. Understanding how likely you are to use different features of an insurance plan helps you to anticipate the best option.

For example, if I selected a plan with a lower monthly premium because I assumed that meant it was more affordable but had numerous chronic health conditions that necessitated several appointments per week with providers, I would potentially end up paying even more overall than I would if I selected a plan with a higher monthly premium.

Planning for Change It’s also a good idea to factor in any anticipated changes. If you’re thinking about becoming pregnant or know that you’re going to expand your family soon, you may want to take things like maternal care and pediatric health care provider accessibility into account. Likewise, if you have just been diagnosed with a serious health condition and know that you’re going to spend more time in doctors’ offices, hospitals, and paying for treatments, these are all things to take into account. Ensure that the health insurance quotes you get take into account for all of your life's intricacies.

Consulting an insurance representative about the type of plan that suits you best is always an option, whether you’re considering a private or marketplace plan.

Affordable insurance is present in a variety of options. Understanding differences between marketplace enrollment periods, private plans, metal levels, components of a plan, and types of plans will help you select a plan that meets all of your healthcare needs. When you need to go to the walk-in for a sinus infection, you’ll be free to focus on tea and lozenges rather than prescription costs and co-pays affiliated with your affordable health insurance.