By Sunny Choi • April 12, 2012•Writers in Residence
I used to think health insurance was a given. And in general, we do tend to take our good health for granted, along with the cost of maintaining such good health. Since I work for a solo practitioner, I don’t get the typical benefits associated with an office job, such as health insurance and a 401(K) plan. While this isn’t an ideal situation, it is what it is and I have to cope with it. So why not share what I’ve learned along the way? With the continuous downward state of the economy, I’m willing to bet that some of you have been working without health insurance benefits as well.
(Photo Credit: www.goinsurancerates.com)
First, buying health insurance is a personal decision. I don’t want to focus on the politics of healthcare and start any debates here. Your decision will probably be based on financial and psychological priority. I have a friend who’s been doing contract work for several years and he chose to spend his supplemental income on the stock market instead of purchasing health insurance. For others, the risk of not having health insurance in case of an emergency is too great to bear and having health insurance provides a security blanket. I did have health insurance for a while but when the company changed its policy to exclude prescription coverage, I decided that the $250/month was not worth paying anymore.
Then I had an unexpected emergency in the form of a corneal ulcer in my left eye. I woke up with terrible pain, unable to open my eyes to see. Thankfully, my parents lived nearby so they picked me up and took me to an ophthalmologist. They also paid the bill for my doctor visit. This gave me a wake-up call that maybe I should get health insurance again and also have an emergency fund. It’s not my proudest moment having to depend on my parents for the doctor’s bill.
If you’ve decided to pay for your own health insurance, the next step is to research the health insurance options and quotes for your area. I like www.ehealthinsurance.com, which lets you compare the available plans in terms of price, coverage, etc. If you don’t take any regular medications, consider getting a plan without prescription coverage. When I was searching for individual plans in my area, I found a huge price difference between plans with prescription coverage and those without coverage, considering that the coinsurance and deductibles were similar enough to be negligible. For instance, the cheapest plan was approximately $277 and did not include prescription coverage, while the next cheapest plan that did include prescription coverage was a whopping $350.
Also make sure to pick health insurance that covers your most important needs. Remember that mental health, counseling, and therapy are variably covered depending on your insurance and these kinds of visits will cost a lot more than seeing a regular physician without insurance coverage. Same for pre-natal care and delivery if you’re expecting to have a child.
In addition to (or in lieu of) health insurance, you should consider starting an emergency fund of $1,000 or more in case you get into an accident or get diagnosed with a disease (knock on wood). It’s a good idea for other types of emergencies too, such as unemployment and car repairs. Right now my emergency fund is a pitiful $1,000, but hopefully I will be able to contribute more once I get my finances in order.
Lastly, there's no harm in asking your employer to pay for all or part of your health insurance costs. Since I had been working for my boss for several years now, I asked him if the firm could pay for my health insurance. He said to come back with a list of health insurance plans and give him some price quotes. I'm keeping my fingers crossed - the worst he could say is no but at least I asked. So don't be afraid to take the initiative on your health (and your career)! Stay happy and healthy, dear readers.