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If you're one of the 10.9 million Americans currently unemployed, you're faced with sorting out all the different health insurance options and taking on a much higher monthly cost just at the time you're most strapped for cash.
Although many may consider forgoing health insurance altogether while they try to get back on their feet, it's a mistake, says Sally Poblete, the founder and CEO of Wellthie, a website that aims to help consumers and businesses better understand their health insurance options. She believes it's especially important to protect yourself against surprise medical bills when money is tight, since health-care costs have contributed to 62% of individual bankruptcy filings.
"You may not think you’ll be able to afford insurance, but considering the average three-day hospital stay costs about $30,000, how could you not?" says Poblete.
She provides the following five tips for getting the cheapest health care possible:
1. Beware of COBRA.
You may be eligible to keep your old insurance via COBRA, but Poblete warns that "sticking with the familiar can be comforting but costly." The average monthly cost for single coverage in an employer-sponsored plan is $490 , whereas the average middle-of-the road plan on the exchange is $336 . This online tool, provided by Wellthie and EmblemHealth, can help you figure out how the Affordable Care Act (ACA) applies to you.
2. Scope out Obamacare for deep discounts.
Poblete notes that 17 million people are estimated to qualify for tax credits through the ACA. You can get discounts immediately without having to wait until you file your taxes. She suggests using this calculator to check your eligibility.
3. Hack your prescriptions.
Rather than pay full price, Poblete suggests using under-the-radar services to get a discount on prescriptions. For example, prescription assistance programs help patients obtain free or low-cost medications. You can also search for coupons on website GoodRX that can cut the price of prescriptions in half.
4. Take advantage of all special circumstances.
Don't shy away from special programs, advises Poblete. If you need to cover your children, for example, they may qualify for the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), a low-cost health coverage that also covers pregnant women and parents in some states. Additionally, if you're under 30 and relatively healthy, she says choosing a catastrophic insurance plan could save you money, since these plans typically have lower premiums and kick in only if you need a lot of care.
5. Try your local health center.
Health centers are a lower-cost option that cover a range of services, including checkups, immunizations, and mental health treatment, says Poblete. There are about 1,200 health centers that operate nearly 9,000 sites in the U.S., and you can look for one in your area here.
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