From group plans offered through your job to individual or public coverage, the options are almost endless.
Group insurance. Most people get health insurance for themselves and their families through their employers or organizations they belong to (such as unions or professional associations.) This type of coverage is called group insurance. One of the benefits of having insurance through your job is that your employer will pay all or part of the premium (the monthly cost) of your plan.
Some employers let their employees choose between multiple plan options, including between different insurers with greater or lower coverage, deductibles, out-of-pocket costs, etc. Some also have dental and vision plan options. You should always choose the plan that best suits your health needs.
When you select a health plan through group insurance, you will generally not be able to make any changes within your plan or switch to another plan until there is an open enrollment period: a window of opportunity that opens for a set period of time, once a year.
If you get group health insurance for being a member of a union or professional association, you may enjoy better prices, as the larger the group, the better it negotiates costs with insurers. The downside is that in general, these organizations don’t pay part of your premium.
Individual insurance. If you are self-employed, or work at a small business that does not offer health insurance, you might not have access to group insurance and will have to buy your health coverage for yourself. In this case, you will be responsible for paying all of the premium.
You should compare insurers and health plans until you find the one that suits all your health needs--and your wallet. It’s very important to read the health plan offer, including the fine print, so that you fully understand the scope of the policy.
You might be able to deduct part of your medical expenses when you file your federal tax return.
Individual health insurance plans can be bought directly from insurers, through a broker (insurance agent) or on the Health Insurance Marketplace established by the Affordable Care Act (ACA, also known as Obamacare). To use the latter, you will have to wait until the Open Enrollment Period unless you have what’s called a “qualifying life event,” such as the birth or adoption of a child, a divorce, or a move, which would qualify you for a Special Enrollment Period.
Public health programs
The United States federal government and state and local governments fund health programs so that more people can receive healthcare.
Medicaid: This is the state-managed federal program for people with limited income. Medicaid eligibility varies greatly depending on the state you live in.
Medicare: This is the federal health program for people 65 and older, and for younger adults with disabilities.
Sources: healthcare.org, HHS, AHRQ