Children and Health Insurance: Options for Families
As a parent, one of the riskiest things you can do, for your family and for your future, is to go without medical insurance. Unpaid medical bills account for $60 billion dollars of debt each year, and what's worse, they can totally ruin your credit report! (Unpaid doctor's bills frequently go to collection agencies.) Cut-backs and lay-offs have left more of us uninsured or losing insurance benefits. So it's important to know what your health insurance options are.
Here's how you can find out your health insurance options:
- Know your state. First, check out the Insurance Information Institute for the basics. Then check your state government's website to see what your state offers. Then Google your state insurance broker for rate quotes.
- Cover your kids. Many states have State Health Insurance Children's Programs (SCHIP), which offer low-cost or free health coverage for every child. So at the very least, make sure that your precious babies can get the medical attention and the vaccinations they need.
- Try to join a group. If you or your partner are self-employed, there are still ways to qualify for group coverage, which is less expensive than individual plans. Unions or guilds like the Freelancer's Union offer group rates to their members. You can also check out ehealthinsurance.com to see if you can sign up for group-discounted coverage.
- Go for the high deductible. If you can't afford a full-fledged coverage plan, consider a High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP), which is sometimes called catastrophic insurance. You pay more if something happens, but you're your monthly costs are lower. That way, at least you're covered for hospitalizations.
- Take advantage of COBRA. If you've been recently laid off, it's still legally required for your former employer to provide coverage for 18 months. You have to pay essentially their premium (what the company pays to cover you), which can seem like a hefty sum (in some cases, maybe it's as much as your rent or mortgage!), but if you've planned your emergency fund accordingly, you should be able to budget for it until you can find another job or a better health plan option. (Find out more about COBRA at the United States Department of Labor.)
- Look into Medicaid. If you're eligible for public assistance, you may also qualify for Medicaid, which is administered by the states for people whose income and resources are insufficient to pay for health care. Each state has different requirements and coverage varies, so be sure to do the research.
- Find prescription discounts. If you need to go without prescription coverage, shop around for discounts at sites like DestinationRx.com. Also, Costco and Walmart offer very competitive pricing for prescriptions even online.
Get more financial advice from our personal finance expert, Carmen Wong Ulrich!