5 things Cool Adults should know about buying health insurance

(via Kaiser Health News)

Imagine what you could do with $2,000. If you’re between 18 and 34, you might travel somewhere fun. Maybe buy a big TV. But would you buy health insurance?

Take it from another Millennial: Think about insurance if you don’t have any.

Without insurance, a serious accident or illness could put you on the hook for staggering medical bills that will haunt you for years.

People in our age range represent half of the 10.5 million uninsured Americans eligible to sign up this fall for coverage under the federal health law, the government estimates.

To get coverage starting Jan. 1, complete your application by Dec. 15.

If you lack coverage, you’re worried about money or confused about your choices, consider these five questions:

1. What will insurance do for me?

You can count on coverage for what the government calls essential health benefits.

You can’t be denied coverage for a pre-existing health condition. Preventive services such as shots and screening tests are free. Expect to pay something for other covered services, such as emergency care.

2. Can I afford it?

What you will pay for coverage in 2016 depends on what you expect to make. The government offers tax credits that help people with modest incomes cut their monthly premiums, and for lower-income consumers there are other subsidies that help reduce a plan’s out-of-pocket costs.

Use this estimator to gauge whether you qualify for aid:https://www.healthcare.gov/lower-costs/. Premiums vary widely depending where you live. In 2015, the second-cheapest silver plan for a 27-year-old cost $165 a month in New Mexico but $449 in Alaska, according to the government.

3. What if I don’t buy insurance?

If you don’t — and you didn’t get an IRS exemption — the IRS will fine you.

The penalty is rising next year to $695 per adult or 2.5% of your annual household income  — whichever is higher.

4.How can I tell what plan is right for me?

Obamacare has five categories of plans: platinum (which pays 90% of your medical costs on average), gold (80%), silver (70%), bronze (60%) and catastrophic (which only pays for very high medical costs).

The differences are about how much you’ll pay for services beyond what your plan covers. Platinum plans generally have higher premiums but might save you more in other expenses, such as deductibles and co-payments.

If you see a doctor twice a year, maybe consider bronze or silver. But if you have a chronic disease that requires a lot of medicine or treatment, for example, you might want a plan with a higher premium but that covers more services.

5.What else should I consider?

A good plan isn’t measured only by a monthly premium. When you compare plans, factor in deductibles (what you pay for services before insurance kicks in), the co-payments you will owe for covered services and the out-of-pocket maximums.

And it’s important to know whether you will be able to visit almost any doctor or health care facility.  Some plans keep premium costs lower by reducing the number of these health care providers whose services they will cover.

Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation.