(StatePoint) For many Americans, it's time to pick a health plan for the coming year, or revisit current coverage to ensure it's still a good fit.
Taking place between Nov. 1 and Dec. 15, with some flexibility for enrollment until the end of January, Open Enrollment is the only time of year (besides qualifying life events) when people can update or choose a new health plan. While millions of Americans are offered health coverage through their employer, there is a massive (and growing) segment of the workforce who work for themselves -- gig workers, freelancers, contractors, consultants and more -- and therefore need to shop for health plans themselves.
Independent workers deserve the same financial security as full-time employees, and the right health insurance is a key component of that.
To help you and your family find affordable, high-value coverage this Open Enrollment Period, digital health company Stride Health offers the following tips:
1. Consider health needs. Assess your family's health needs for the upcoming year. If you only use your benefits for preventative care and the seldom urgent care visit, then you might be able to get away with a high deductible plan. If you see specialists regularly, then you may want to consider paying a higher premium to save on out-of-pocket expenses. Likewise, if anyone in your family takes prescription medications regularly, you'll want to factor in drug coverage on any plans you're considering. Shop with providers that make it easy to check whether your doctors and medications are covered by the plan before you enroll.
2. Identify your budget. Review your monthly net income to determine how much you can budget for your health plan, keeping in mind that most health plans don't cover adult dental and vision. The good news is that coverage is likely more affordable than you realize. In fact, perceived affordability is the number one barrier in accessing health coverage. In a Stride Health survey, 80% of gig workers who don't have health coverage said that they think health insurance costs more than $100 per family member. But in reality, 72% of gig workers who have insurance say they spend less than $100 per family member on coverage.
3. Understand the plan. You want to feel confident about the plan you choose. Educate yourself on its costs and structure, including its monthly premium, the deductible, the annual out-of-pocket maximum, co-pays, and such details as whether a referral is needed to see a specialist. Opt for a Qualified Health Plan that covers preventive care, basic primary care and has no maximum out of pocket on emergency care. Avoid short-term medical plans or products like cancer or accident insurance, which have limited scopes of coverage.
4. Lower your premium. You may be eligible for a lower premium through a subsidy. Also known as an advanced premium tax credit, this refundable tax credit offered by the government helps eligible individuals and families with moderate to low income afford health insurance. Thanks to these credits, 45% of insured gig workers report paying $0 on premiums. Another 27% report paying between $1 to $100 per family member for health insurance. Cost Sharing Reductions, another form of financial assistance that works on Silver plans, could save you thousands in medical costs.
5. Shop around. Picking the right plan can be complicated and confusing. But there are companies out there to help. Stride brings all costs front and center for you so there are no surprises when you go to the doctors or fill a prescription. You can also get trusted tips and advice from Stride Health's blog and website.
It's important to remember that health care needs and plan details can change. Spending a little time each Open Enrollment to pick the right plan for you and your family can save you money and ensure you get the care you need at an affordable price.