First Time Buying Health Insurance? We Got You

Published on
October 5, 2023

Growing up is fun, isn’t it? You finally have no one telling you what to do! When you turn 26 and realize you have no idea how health insurance actually works, and can’t stay on Mom or Dad’s plan anymore, it’s not quite as fun. There are plenty of other reasons you may not have had to shop for health insurance up until now, too. Maybe you’ve always had insurance through your job, and now you’re taking the freelance life for a spin. Whatever the reason, signing up for health insurance doesn’t need to be intimidating.

If none of the insurance jargon makes sense, don’t feel bad. Just follow this 10-step cheat sheet, and you’ll be on your way to having effective, affordable coverage. If you’re in a rush, skip to number eight. If there’s any insurance fact you have to know, it’s that one.

1. Know that signing up for a health insurance plan saves money in the long run

At first, signing up for health insurance seems like a waste of money. If you’re young and healthy, it feels pointless to hand over your hard-earned cash for a subscription you never use. Why bother? You probably use Hulu and Netflix way more often, and those services don’t pay for themselves! The difference is that if you cancel your streaming subscriptions, the biggest risk is that you’ll miss out on the latest Disney+ exclusive. If you skip health coverage, you risk paying tens of thousands of dollars out of pocket. It doesn’t seem worth it until you need it. Once you do, it’s very, very worth it. Paying for another pricy “subscription” might be a pain, but going bankrupt hurts so much worse. Don’t risk it.

2. Be wary of sketchy health insurance ads

The allure of low-cost health insurance advertised online is understandable. If it looks too good to be true it probably is. When you’re shopping for health insurance, stick with reliable sources. If you are not selecting a plan through your employer, HealthBird is the go-to platform for reviewing your options. It's a reputable app that streamlines the entire process. Alternatively, you can also explore HealthCare.gov for additional choices and information.

3. Find out if you’re eligible for free or low-cost coverage

Depending on your income, it’s possible you’re eligible for reduced monthly premiums, or even no premium at all. If you’re over 26, or over 18 and no one claims you as a dependent on their income taxes, your income will be automatically taken into account during the application process to get you the best prices possible.

4. Consider your health needs

Before you choose a plan, consider how you’ll likely use it. If you’re young and have no preexisting conditions, you’ll likely use your insurance sparingly. You may not need to spend extra on a PPO plan that allows you to visit out-of-network specialists without a referral. If you have a chronic condition, however, the upgrade is worth it. Check whether your current prescriptions are covered under any plans you’re reviewing as well. Just like pants, your plan is supposed to fit you, not the other way around.

5. Browse local health networks

If you select an HMO plan, you’ll be able to see a list of doctors and specialists who all work within a single network. If you already have a doctor you love, check what network they work with and choose a plan accordingly. If you don’t, consider asking around for local recommendations to make it easier to find a primary care physician you actually want to visit.

6. Read up on premiums, deductibles, and copays

Decoding some of the buzzwords of health insurance is important to choosing the right plan. The short version? A premium is the amount you pay every month to stay covered. A deductible is the amount you’ll be expected to pay out of pocket before your coverage kicks in. A copay is the amount you’ll have to pitch in for covered services. A lab test might be covered 80% by your insurance plan, for example, while you’ll need to pay the remaining 20%. For the details, check out our in-depth post on health insurance tiers.

7. If you like the plan you have, you might be able to keep it

Even if you’re aging out of your parent’s health insurance plan, if you already love the insurance you have, why change? Many major health insurance companies offer the same or similar health insurance plans through online insurance marketplaces as they do through employers. Look for a plan within the same insurance provider network, and all your existing care providers should be covered.

8. Don’t miss the deadline

Health insurance open enrollment is only available once a year starting on November 1st. Shoppers have until January 15th to enroll, although individual states may extend the deadline. Get the details on how open enrollment works here.

9. Sign up the easy way

If you go to your state’s online healthcare marketplace, you’ll need to sort through all your coverage options on your own. That’s a tedious task for anyone! HealthBird simplifies the process by asking you to answer the most important questions right off the bat. Based on your answers, the app narrows down your options and curates customized, no-commitment quotes in minutes. Give it a try! It’s totally free.

10. Ask for help

Still stumped? We have live agents available around the clock to clear up any confusion and help you choose the right health insurance plan for you. Yes, real people, not annoying bots. Reach out online, and get your questions answered fast.

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