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Here are four ways to evaluate alternative health coverage

Here are some questions to consider if you missed the enrollment window that ended this spring and still want to buy a plan.
By TOM MURPHY, Associated Press Published: June 7, 2014

Most of the uninsured have to wait five months for the next chance to seek coverage on the health care overhaul’s public exchanges. But that doesn’t mean they need to spend the summer worrying about their lack of protection from large medical bills.

The state-based exchanges, a cornerstone in the overhaul’s push to expand insurance coverage, still permit customers to buy coverage under certain circumstances. The uninsured also can buy a temporary plan to cover them for a few months.

Here are some questions to consider if you missed the enrollment window that ended this spring and still want to buy a plan.

1. Can I still use a healthcare exchange?

A major life change — such as a move to another state, marriage, divorce, and the birth or adoption of a child — would allow you to use the exchanges to find coverage. Anyone who becomes a U.S. citizen or leaves prison also is entitled to enroll between open enrollment periods.

Aside from exceptions like these, those who want to use the exchanges will have to wait until Nov. 15, when enrollment begins for coverage that starts in 2015.

Insurance bought on the exchanges comes with a key advantage: Applicants may be eligible for income-based tax credits that help pay the cost of their coverage.

2. What other options do I have?

Employer-sponsored coverage is the most common form of health insurance in the U.S. Landing a job that offers insurance or gaining coverage through a spouse’s employer are two key paths to gaining major medical coverage.

A short-term plan can be an option for less-extensive coverage. This coverage generally runs for less than a year and can be as short as 30 days. Think of it as a safety net.

It’s designed to protect you from a potentially devastating medical bill, but it’s generally not as thorough as coverage you would find on the exchange or through an employer.

“It gives (the enrollee) some level of protection until they can get to their next open enrollment period,” said Bob Hurley, a senior vice president with the private health insurance exchange operator eHealth Inc.

These plans tend to require customers to pay more costs out of pocket than a major medical plan found on an exchange, said Gary Claxton, a vice president with the Kaiser Family Foundation, which studies health care issues.

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