Purchasing health insurance is essential to make sure you are prepared for any worst-case medical situations, and by law, every American is now required to obtain coverage. If left uncovered in the case of a serious medical emergency, you could be saddled with staggering medical bills. If you still are without insurance, you have until March 31 to find and sign up for a plan. While this might sound like a daunting task, it is essential that you get covered, and it’s actually easier than you might think. Remember that if you are on your parents’ health insurance plan, you can stay on it until you are 26, and if not, you can enroll in your university’s health plan. But if you are graduating and can’t stay on your parent’s insurance or otherwise find yourself without insurance, there are a lot of questions you probably have about the next step. Here are some tips for finding affordable health insurance:
1. Check out options at the Covered California marketplace. These plans include coverage for doctor visits, hospitalizations, maternity care, emergency room care, prescriptions and more. You can see all of this information online at https://www.coveredca.com/
2. Find out about financial help that’s available. On Covered California’s website, you can find out if you qualify for financial assistance to lower your costs.
3. Use Covered California to compare plans side by side. The new marketplace lists your options on one website and shows what each plan covers.
4. Take advantage of expert help in-person, online or by phone. Trained people are available across the state to help you apply and understand your options. Find them at https://www.coveredca.com/enrollment-assistance/
5. Don’t take “no” for an answer. Insurance companies can no longer deny you due to a pre-existing condition. If an insurance agent tells you that you can’t sign up because you are sick, they are breaking the law.
6. The sooner you enroll, the sooner coverage starts. If you enroll by March 15, your coverage will start April 1. But if you enroll between March 15 and March 31, your coverage doesn’t start until May 1.
If you’re from outside California, all of these tips still apply, but you should check out healthcare.gov instead. Health care reforms have given consumers a variety of new protections nationwide they didn’t have before. In addition to being able to stay on your parents’ plan until you are 26, these are other key consumer protections:
Free preventive care, including checkups and vaccinations
Insurance companies can’t set a lifetime cap on what they’ll pay if you get sick
Rebates if your insurance company spends less than 80 percent of premiums on care
No more annual caps on what your insurer will pay if you get sick
Insurance companies can’t charge women more than men for coverage
To find out more, check out CalPIRG Education Fund’s full Health Insurance 101 guide online at www.calpirg.org.
Zach Weinstein is the health care associate for CalPIRG, and Safeena Leila Mecklai is the ASUC external affairs vice president and the University of California Student Association board chair.