If you're single and uninsured, the specter of a health crisis takes on an added dimension of anxiety. Not only might your very life be in danger but your livelihood as well. And unless you have wealthy parents, siblings, or grown children who can bail you out of impending financial doom, it may take you the rest of your days to pay back that doctor you owe your life to.
When you're an uninsured single, it's easy to fall into a pattern of resignation and daily prayer or crossed fingers. It may not occur to you that just because your job doesn't come with insurance doesn't mean you have to go without. Here are six avenues to affordable insurance that you may want to investigate:
Medicaid eligibility varies from state to state. For example, if you live in New York, like I do, and are single, you can't earn more than $700 a month or have resources totaling more than $4200. You'll need to prove your eligibility by meeting with a Medicaid counselor and completing an extensive inventory of your income and assets. This can take several hours, both in preparation and at your nearest Department of Social Services, so be sure you meet the requirements before you apply.
2. Low-cost State Insurance
If you're not eligible for Medicaid (insurance at no cost), you may still be eligible for a state-run plan for low-income residents (insurance at low cost). A handful of progressive states now offer policies with discounted premiums for those who can keep themselves out of a homeless shelter but won't own a McMansion anytime soon. These policies are usually the dreaded HMOs and may provide only basic, no-frills coverage, but they're better than nothing. For example, Health NY, the New York State plan for singles who make no more than $2,167 a month, regardless of their assets, covers diagnostic and treatment services, including surgery, for a wide range of medical conditions, but it doesn't cover dental, vision, mental health, or "preventive" care. Premiums vary based on the details of the chosen plan but are in the $200-300 range. Massachusetts, Maryland, North Carolina, Illinois, Washington, and Oregon are among the states with similar plans.
3. Catastrophic Coverage
If you don't qualify for a low-income plan, consider obtaining catastrophic coverage in case of a medical emergency. These bare-bones policies generally cover hospital visits only, but it's that unexpected trip to the ER that's most likely to bruise your bank account. Since you're only expected to use your benefits in a crisis, your deductible will probably be high, in the $500-2,000 range. Premiums are about $100 a month. Blue Cross Blue Shield and GHI are two insurance companies known for their popular catastrophic coverage, or hospital indemnity, plans. This PDF edition of Managed Care Week lists many more around the country.
4. Union Plans
Perhaps you're self-employed and are a member of a union. If so, your union might offer low-cost insurance options. The Freelancers Union, the National Writers Union, the Screen Actors Guild, and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, are a few unions for creative professionals through which members can access health insurance. Believe it or not, there's even a new National Singles Association promising medical benefits on the horizon! Whatever your line of work, if you're an independent contractor, check out Unions.org. It has a comprehensive list of unions in all industries. A reasonable annual or one-time membership fee could be your gateway to healthcare.
5. Small Business Plans
Or maybe you're an employee at a small business, and your employer can't afford the average $7,000-8,000 yearly cost of an individual plan. Your employer may be interested to know that a number of insurance providers have recently created plans for small businesses of two to 50 employees. Some low-cost state programs, such as Healthy NY, also allow small employer contributions. If your employer doesn't have the resources to pay for your premium in full, talk to him or her about sharing the burden 50-50 or 60-40. Use your irreproachable track record as leverage! Small business owners hate to lose good workers.
6. Short-term Insurance
If all else fails and you're getting desperate, short-term insurance can give you peace of mind while you plan your next move, especially if you're starting over after losing a job or a spouse. Your deductible will be sky-high, and you won't be able to participate for more than six months or a year, but your enrollment will guarantee that if this is the year you win the anti-lotto and lose your job and your health, you won't also lose your life savings. Short-term Health Insurance, eHealthInsurance, and ConsumerBenefits.net are a few of the sites through which consumers can purchase temporary insurance.