Use these tips to find a health plan that meets your needs and your budget.
Step 1: Check state laws Become familiar with the health insurance laws in your state. Type the name of your state and "health insurance laws" into a search engine to find the appropriate government web site.
Step 2: Check out group rates Check out policies that trade associations offer; they often have lower rates. But make sure you're contacting a reputable trade group. Some lure in members with low premiums that jump up in a year or two.
TIP: If you're self-employed, see if your state offers group rates to businesses with just a few employees.
Step 3: Comparison shop Comparison shop either on your own or with the help of a health insurance broker. Locate the latter through nahu.org.
Step 4: Read the fine print Buyer beware: Some policies offer only "limited benefits," a distinction that's not apparent unless you read the fine print.
TIP: Three-quarters of Americans who are pushed into personal bankruptcy by medical problems had health insurance.
Step 5: Go for a high deductible Consider a high deductible. Depending on the size of your family and your medical situation, it may be cheaper to hold health insurance primarily for a catastrophic illness or injury rather than for regular office visits.
TIP: Find out if you can open a health savings account, which lets you put money in an interest-bearing account that can be withdrawn, tax-free, for medical expenses your insurance doesn't cover.
Step 6: Protect your children Protect your children by calling 1-877-KIDS-NOW for information on low-cost – or even free – health insurance for children 18 years and younger. Each state has its own program for low-income families, and eligibility rules vary.
Step 7: Look into Medicaid If your income is very low, find out if you're eligible for Medicaid by contacting the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Step 8: Apply for Medicare If you're 65 years or older, apply for the federal health insurance program known as Medicare by calling 1-800-MEDICARE.
FACT: In some states, people who work 25 hours per week qualify for the health benefits of a full-time employee.