Health Insurance Basics

Most people get health insurance through a job-based health plan, or they buy it themselves from an insurance company. 

If you have to buy insurance on your own, many kinds of private health insurance policies are for sale. Different kinds of policies can offer very different kinds of benefits and can limit your access to some doctors, hospitals, or other providers. 

The kinds of benefits and which care providers your policy covers can make a big difference in your costs and the quality of care you get if you become ill.

How much will my policy cost me?

The answer is more complicated than you might think. The cheapest policy may not provide you the best overall value.

The most obvious feature of any policy is the premium - the amount you pay (usually monthly) to an insurance company for a health insurance policy. 

Just as important as the premium cost, however, is how much you have to pay when you get services. Examples include:

  • How much you pay before insurance coverage begins (a deductible)
  • What you pay for services after you pay the deductible
  • How much in total you will have to pay if you get sick (the out-of-pocket maximum)

Often, there is a direct tradeoff between how much you pay for health insurance and the extent of the covered benefits.

As you weigh this tradeoff, remember that buying the policy with the cheapest premium or with a very high out-of-pocket maximum may leave many services and treatments uncovered. This could leave you vulnerable to high medical bills.

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