Buying your own health insurance has gotten a lot less expensive

Author
April 01, 2021 5:00 AM

If you need to get health insurance for 2022, now’s the time – and the cost may surprise you.

Insurance umbrella blue coverage rain
Credit: Jacob Dwyer

This article was last updated November 29, 2021.

This year, hundreds of millions of Americans got cash infusions from the government as part of the American Rescue Plan – and the program also meant breaks on the cost of health insurance for tens of millions who buy their own coverage.

Those breaks will continue into 2022, as the federal program continues to make health insurance much less expensive for people who don’t get it from their job, Medicare, Medicaid, or military and veterans programs.

The program continues the extra financial help that’s available to people who buy their own insurance through the national Marketplace at Healthcare.gov.

That means the monthly premium for a particular plan will be lower than it was before mid-2021 – for many people, much, much lower. Many people who have bought their own insurance for several years might be able to get an even better insurance plan for what a lower-level one used to cost.

And that’s on top of the fact that having health insurance can save you hundreds or thousands of dollars if you get sick or injured.

The Open Enrollment period for anyone who wants to take change or choose their plan through Healthcare.gov for 2022 runs through January 15. You will still have to pay any co-pays, co-insurance and deductibles that a plan has.

After mid-January, people who have a major life event – losing a job, getting married or divorced, having a baby – can still enroll for the rest of 2022.

“After the special program took effect in spring of this year, we had many patients calling to get help with finding a plan or switching what they have,” says Alena Hill, who oversees a team of financial counselors at Michigan Medicine who are trained to help anyone find a plan that works for them. “Now, it’s time to pick plans for next year. Now is the time to make sure you’re covered, and so are the people you love.”

Hill’s team can help anyone who calls (877) 326-9155 on Monday-Friday, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., or emails PFC-Counselors@med.umich.edu.

They also partner with the Washtenaw Health Plan which offers other ways to get help for people in southeast Michigan, and free online presentations to any community organization in the area.

Here’s how the new program could affect different people

If you already bought health insurance on Healthcare.gov for all or part of 2021:

You can choose to stick with the plan you have, or switch to a new one. Your plan might renew automatically, but it’s important to go back to Healthcare.gov and explore your options.

That includes people who have had the same plan since the start of the year, and people who bought insurance under the special enrollment period that began in February.

If you didn’t go back in spring or summer to see if you could get a mid-year cost reduction, you may be especially surprised when you look at options for 2022.

SEE ALSO: Long wait at the Emergency Room? What to consider before heading in

Make sure you look at all the options available in your area, and that you consider whether plans have high deductibles, which is the amount you’ll have to pay for care before your insurance kicks in, except for preventive services that are covered at no cost to you.

From the front page of Healthcare.gov, click “Log in to renew/change plans”

Then, go into the Plan Compare section of the site and check to see if any doctors, hospitals and health systems that you prefer to go to actually participate in the new plan, before you finalize your choice. Look at whether the plan covers any medications you take.

Once you’ve looked at all your options, you can either confirm that you want the same plan you’re already in, or choose a new one.

After you’ve submitted your choice, you’ll get a notice of how much financial assistance you now qualify for, and instructions on what to do to make your choice final.

If you choose a new plan for 2022, make sure you understand what costs you’ll have to pay when you use your insurance, including co-pays, co-insurance and deductibles.

If you looked at Healthcare.gov before, but didn’t buy a plan because it seemed too expensive:

The American Rescue Plan opened up financial help to millions more people, so you should go on Healthcare.gov and shop again right away.

People who make just a bit more than the poverty level – about $19,000 for an individual and $39,000 for a family of four – now have access to some plans for little or no monthly premium.

People making less than this can also get low-cost coverage if they live in Michigan or one of the other states that have expanded Medicaid. The Healthcare.gov calculator will tell them if they might qualify and direct them to their state’s program. If they get rejected by their state plan, they can take that rejection letter back to Healthcare.gov and apply to get a plan.

"Now is the time to make sure you’re covered, and so are the people you love."
Alena Hill
Michigan Medicine

People with higher incomes – more than four times the poverty rate – didn’t qualify for financial help before, but the new law changes that.

Now, anyone making up to six times the poverty level can get help. That includes individuals with incomes up to $76,000 and families with incomes up to $157,000. The older you are, up to age 64, the more financial help you will get.

Whatever plan you choose, make sure the monthly cost is something you’ll be able to afford, and set aside that amount each month before your other expenses. If you miss a couple of payments, the insurance company could drop you.

And if you choose a plan that has a high deductible, you can set money aside tax-free in a health savings account that rolls over from year to year.

If your income varies from month to month, making it hard to fill out the part of the application that asks you to state your yearly income, do a best-guess estimate. You can go back and update it later if your income goes up or down. If your income ends up being much higher than you put on your application, you may end up owing money, or getting a smaller refund, when you file your income taxes in 2023.

SEE ALSO: Picking Health insurance for 2022? Check this guide to avoid a common mistake 

If you have the chance to get health insurance through a job, but the cost of that coverage would eat up more than 8.5% of your income, you can also get financial help with buying coverage on healthcare.gov.

If you don’t have health insurance and you’ve never shopped for health insurance before:

The new reductions in cost mean this is a perfect time to go on Healthcare.gov and see what your options are, and how much it will cost.

Health insurance language can be confusing and the choices may seem overwhelming. If you need help, ask for it – use the Local Help finder on Healthcare.gov, or call the number above.

If you’ve been receiving free or reduced-cost services from a hospital because you didn’t have insurance, contact the office that has approved this assistance. They may request or require that you apply for insurance now, so that the hospital does not have to bear the entire cost of your care.

If your income is below the poverty level and you live in a state that hasn’t expanded Medicaid, the plans on the Healthcare.gov site are not open to you. However, there may be emergency help available if you contact a local health center or nonprofit organization.

Immigration status can affect eligibility for Healthcare.gov plans, too. Learn more about which kinds of immigration status make someone eligible to apply for coverage on healthcare.gov. Contact the Washtenaw Health Plan at (734) 544-3030 or whp@washtenaw.org, or your local Federally Qualified Health Center, for help in understanding how this might affect you or someone you know.