If you’re buying health insurance outside a job-based plan, you’re in luck this fall. After years of cutbacks and — some say sabotage — of the Affordable Care Act during the Trump administration, the Biden administration is pulling out the stops to help people find good health plans on HealthCare.gov right now — the open enrollment period starts this week. You will have more time to sign up, more free help choosing a plan, and a greater likelihood you’ll be eligible for subsidies to help keep down the costs of a health plan you buy via the ACA marketplace.
Still, picking health insurance can be hard work, even if you’re choosing a plan through your employer. There are a lot of confusing terms, and the process forces you to think hard about your health and your finances. Plus you have to navigate all of it on a deadline, often with only a few-week period to explore your options and make decisions.
Whether you’re aging out of your parent’s plan and picking one for the first time, or you’re in a plan that no longer works for you and you’re ready to switch things up, or you’re uninsured and want to see if you have any workable options, there’s good news. Asking yourself a few simple questions can help you zero in on the right plan from all those on the market.
Here are some tips on where to look and how to get trustworthy advice and help if you need it.
Tip #1: Know where to go
It’s not always obvious where to look for health insurance. “In this country it is a truly wacky patchwork quilt of options,” says Sabrina Corlette, who co-directs the Center on Health Insurance Reform at Georgetown University.
If you’re 65 or older, you’re eligible for Medicare. It’s a federally run program — the government pays for much of your health care. You might also be eligible if you have certain disabilities. For those already enrolled in Medicare or in a Medicare Advantage plan, the open enrollment period to switch up your supplemental health and prescription drug plans for 2022 runs through Dec. 7 this year.
For those under age 65, Corlette says, “the vast majority of us get our coverage through our employer. The employer typically will cover between 70% and 90% of your premium costs, which is pretty nice.” Check with your supervisor or your company’s human resources department to find out what, if any, plans are available to you through your job.
Then there’s Medicaid, the health insurance program for people with low incomes, that covers around 80 million people — nearly one in four Americans. It’s funded by both the federal and state governments, but run by each state, so whether you’re eligible depends on where you live.
For practically everyone else, the place to go is Healthcare.gov, where you can shop for insurance in the marketplaces created by the Affordable Care Act, also known