How to Buy Affordable Health Insurance
In many ways, purchasing health insurance in the age of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is easier than ever. With an open marketplace, insurers are forced to compete with one another for your business. Still, it can be difficult to navigate a few key points: Are you choosing the right plan? When do you make your move? What is the best value for your specific health situation? Here are some resources and guidelines that are a great starting point when navigating the muddy insurance waters:
Step 1: Do your research!
The ACA allows many Americans to get subsidies for their monthly health insurance premiums. To see if you qualify for income-based savings in a Marketplace plan, use this tool:
Step 2: Understand the offerings in your home state!
Each state has a unique marketplace. Here's a comprehensive guide to understanding yours: State-by-State ACA Guide. The website that produces the independent and comprehensive guide, Healthinsurance.org, has been up and running since 1994. Their website offers state-by-state information about the open-enrollment application windows, FAQ's about the qualifying events and circumstances that can help you bypass the enrollment period (for example, if you get married, lose your job, or have a child, for example), and much more.
Each state has different health insurance statutes... research yours!upload.wikimedia.org
Step 3: Understand your other options
Are you a full-time employee, or is your spouse or domestic partner? It's possible that opting into a ESI (employee-sponsored) plan will be cheaper than searching on the marketplace during the open enrollment period. If you've been laid-off, it's worth checking out the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) plan, which acts as a temporary bridge from your former employer sponsored health plan. It's important to understand that COBRA plans aren't necessarily the most affordable option, but they're great if you need quick access to the same doctors and treatments that you had under the ESI plans.
Step 4: Know the lingo
Choosing a health insurance plan can be complicated. Knowing just a few things before you compare plans can make it simpler. Here are some guidelines provided by Healthcare.gov:
The 4 "metal" categories: There are 4 categories of health insurance plans: Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Platinum. These categories show how you and your plan share costs. Plan categories have nothing to do with quality of care.
Your total costs for health care: You pay a monthly bill to your insurance company (a "premium"), even if you don't use medical services that month. You pay out-of-pocket costs, including a deductible, when you get care. It's important to think about both kinds of costs when shopping for a plan.
Plan and network types — HMO, PPO, POS, and EPO: Some plan types allow you to use almost any doctor or health care facility. Others limit your choices or charge you more if you use providers outside their network.
The HHS.gov (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) also has a great resource that explains, state by state, who is eligible for Medicaid and the recently adopted Medicaid Expansions.
Step 5: Understand the differences between Medicare and Medicaid
HHS.gov sums it up like this:
Medicare is an insurance program. Medical bills are paid from trust funds which those covered have paid into. It serves people over 65 primarily, whatever their income; and serves younger disabled people and dialysis patients. Patients pay part of costs through deductibles for hospital and other costs. Small monthly premiums are required for non-hospital coverage. Medicare is a federal program. It is basically the same everywhere in the United States and is run by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, an agency of the federal government. For more information regarding Medicare and its components, please go to http://www.medicare.gov.
Medicaid is an assistance program. It serves low-income people of every age. Patients usually pay no part of costs for covered medical expenses. A small co-payment is sometimes required. Medicaid is a federal-state program. It varies from state to state. It is run by state and local governments within federal guidelines. To see if you qualify for your state's Medicaid (or Children's Health Insurance) program, see: https://www.healthcare.gov/medicaid-chip/eligibility/
Step 6: Know when to ask for help
There's no question that shopping for health insurance can be overwhelming. Fortunately, there are agents set up to help you across the nation that are free and knowledgeable. Use this website to type in your zip code and get access to your state's marketplace. Help is just a few clicks or a phone call away! https://localhelp.healthcare.gov/#/
Image via UnSplash: Giorgio Trovato
There’s so much to do before the end of the year. And so much of it seems to zap your bank account. Hosting Thanksgiving? Holiday shopping? Decorating and decking the halls? All of it costs money. But there's one way to get some money back before the close of the year — your FSA. Just make sure you don’t miss the deadline.
That’s right, the FSA deadline is coming up. And if you haven’t drained that FSA account dry, you’re leaving money on the table. So what are you waiting for? Get those reimbursement dollars and put some money back into your pockets this season for a change.
Not sure where to start? Here’s the 411 on FSAs and everything you should be buying with your remaining funds.
What is an FSA?
An FSA, aka Flexible Spending Account, is an employee benefit that lets you stash away pre-tax income for later use on your medical expenses. The amount varies based on whether you have dependents or if you’re married, etc. Check your benefits portal or contact HR if you’re not sure if you have one or how to access it. About 43% of employees have an FSA allowance, so take a look.
Since it’s tied to your employer, it’s definitely something you want to use. Wasting your FSA allowance is like throwing a portion of your salary away. You worked hard, you earned it. So use it before you lose it.
How does an FSA work?
From the day your plan is active each year, you can withdraw your funds to pay for a ton of different health services and products. From medication to co-pays. Covid-related supplies, and even menstrual products anything for the good of your health is fair game. Some more niche FSA-approved purchases include deep massage guns and even some of the costs of buying and maintaining a service animal.
To get your benefits, you can either withdraw funds or save your receipts and get reimbursed later.
What is the difference between FSA and an HSA?
A Health Savings Account (HSA) lets you set aside pre-tax and tax-exempt money to pay for qualified medical expenses. Like a savings account, it stays there until you use it – and many even earn interest, like an investment account. Your HSA also doesn’t expire, so no deadlines. Instead, your funds roll over. And since it’s not tied to your employer, you can carry HSA funds from job to job — even after you change health insurance plans or retire.
When is the FSA Deadline?
For most employees, the deadline to use your funds is December 31st. Employers have some leeway, so make sure to double-check. But for most of us, it’s go time.
And while there was a rollover grace period during the pandemic, now, the leniency of the deadline depends on your employer. So make sure to make your FSA-eligible purchases, or request your reimbursements now!
Before the deadline passes, make sure to stock up on essentials and even get your money back from past purchases (if you have your receipt!). And if you’re looking to discover some exciting FSA-eligible purchases to make before New Year’s, here are a few we’re shopping:
All products featured are independently selected by our editors. Things you buy through our links may earn us a commission.
FEEL GOOD LOTION & SPRAY BUNDLE - SPF 30
If your FSA is buying, it’s easier to justify splurging on suncare. This 2-in-1 Bask Suncare kit comes with a spray and lotion sunscreen. I’ll be buying this in bulk. Sunscreen is a must, even in the winter!
Warby Parker Glasses, Contacts, & Annual Eye Exam
Glasses, contacts, and even your annual eye exam are covered under your FSA. I get all three taken care of at Warby Parker for stylish specs and updated prescriptions.
WTHN Acupressure Mat and Pillows
Stress relief is covered under FSA guidelines, including acupressure mats and pillows. This WTHN mat targets stress and tension — while also being aesthetically pleasing. I’ve been eyeing it on Instagram for ages and I finally get to take the plunge.
Aura Revive Heated Deep Muscle Pain Relief Device – Aura Wellness
Get pointed pain relief with heat and pressure with this state-of-the-art device. It comes with multiple attachments for personalized, customizable treatments each time you use it.
Shiatsu Air Pro Foot Massager with Heat
HoMedics® Shiatsu Air Pro Foot Massager with Heat in Silver
Spend all day on your feet? That could have adverse health effects. But don’t worry, foot relief tools like home pedicure stations and massagers are all covered by your FSA. This heated Shiatsu massager is the answer to all your foot-pain problems.
Dyson Air Purifier
Dyson Pure Hot + Cool Link™ HP02 purifier heater (Black/Nickel)
Got allergies? You might be able to get your air purifier covered. This one might take a doctor’s note, but it’s worth the try.
Mighty Patch Pimple Patches
Mighty Patch Original from Hero Cosmetics
Amazing! Acne treatments are covered under your FSA — and my hormonal breakouts could not be happier to hear it. I can finally justify spending on these viral Mighty Patch pimple patches.
Save Your Wallet’s Tears - 2022 Holiday Season Savings Tips
Every time payday rolls around, I’m on top of the world. Jeff Bezos-level rich - even though I’m anything but. And then somehow the very next day, rent is due.
The cycle continues. The next payday, bills for my apartment. I find myself without a surplus of savings since I just moved and newly-furnished my apartment completely.
Even more terrifying is the looming presence of the holiday season. Halloween’s officially over and before we know it, hello Thanksgiving…and then there’s Hanukkah, Christmas, New Year’s. It’s insane.
I’ve been feeling very British lately. Not in a Union-Jack-obsessed, “Keep Calm and Carry-On” way. I went through that phase in 2012 with everyone else… no thank you. And it’s not even a surge of patriotism catalyzed by the Queen dying — I’m firmly team Diana and team Meghan.
Now that fall is officially here, the holidays will sweep in and I’ll have to contend with the fact that I won’t be spending them with my family in the UK. I went home to London earlier this year, so there’s not much left in my travel budget for another trip across the pond. A few domestic jaunts might be in my future, but the closest I’ll get to England this winter is watching Love Island and Love, Actually.
So in that spirit, I’ve been filling my days with content from my favorite Brits. I’m listening to all the old British rock bands I grew up listening to, patiently awaiting the new Arctic Monkeys album, and rewatching anything with Michaela Coel in it. I even shipped myself an order of British Baked Beans, so you know it’s dire.
I’ve also been watching British YouTubers like Grace Beverley — my favorite. Generally, I only go on YouTube to watch Vogue Beauty Secrets and AD Open Door videos. But I’m so glad I stumbled on Grace. Her content is a mix of London lifestyle (what lured me in), relatable entrepreneurship, and mindful productivity. I’m not a hustle-and-grind-girlboss, but as a creative person in a 9-to-5, I need all the help I can get to stay plugged in. So, the video “how to be really really really productive without getting overwhelmed” changed my approach to WFH.
Grace outlines her own productivity method: the to-do table. Instead of making a simple to-do list, she divides her tasks into a table that anyone can follow. As someone who’s survived with to-do lists for years, I recently implemented Grace’s method, and it’s revolutionized my workdays.
how to be really really really productive without getting overwhelmedwww.youtube.com
I follow her routine to a tee. Here’s how it works:
Essentially, she divides her daily responsibilities into four categories: quick ticks, tasks, projects, and non-negotiables.
- Quick Ticks: Actions that take less than 5-minutes
- Tasks: To-do’s that take up to 30-minutes. Probably don’t take too much brain energy.
- Projects: Long-term list items. These help guide your priorities, even if you’re not crossing them off in one day.
- Non-negotiables: Pick 3 things each day that you must get done. This is how you’ll truly measure success.
With everything written down and sorted, next address your schedule. Meetings, deadlines, and time blocks — whatever works best for you. Write it down. Then make a pact with yourself to stick to them.
This way of categorization provides a roadmap for prioritizing your day — making you far more productive. Have you ever spent the entire day on small tasks and then suddenly realized you hadn’t moved the needle on any task? Or do you spend way too much time on tasks that aren’t a priority? No more. With your non-negotiables laid out, you know what to laser-focus on and what to dedicate energy towards.
Also, it pays to know your working style. I’m not a morning person. Yet, I have to be up and at ‘em super early. So, first thing in the morning, I march through my Quick Ticks to warm me up. I set a time limit, so I can knock out some easy wins which is totally inspiring. Then I move on to bigger things without lingering on emails or admin. For others, it might be more helpful to tackle the big things with all that early-in-the-day brain power earlier.
Grace has great tips on avoiding overwhelm and burnout. My favorite is taking more intentional breaks rather than scrolling through social media. I call this scrolling “productive” because I’m “coming up with pitches.” Oh, the lies we tell ourselves. It’s more productive in the long run to giving my brain a break with non-screen related stimuli.
Grace’s solution? Set a timer to read a real, an actual book. I’ve never thought of this. It’s a genius way to check off some books on my TBR and kickstart my creativity. After reading a good book, I’m completely inspired to write. So having books near my desk helps me step away from the computer during my lunch break for an actual reset. (And yes, the current books I’m reading are by British authors: Assembly by Natasha Brown, and Love in Color: Mythical Tales from Around the World, Retold by Bolu Babalolu.)
In my pursuit of switching out my WFH set-up and getting my life together, I’ve engineered my workstation for success. With my new WFH essentials and Grace’s productivity technique, I’m revitalized for work — despite the fall blues and my melancholy about the pending holidays.
Here are the things getting me hyped for work and helping me crush my Grace Beverley-inspired to-do tables — no lists in sight: