There are more alternatives than you may think.
Although most Americans get health insurance through their employer, or from government programs like Medicaid or Medicare, there’s a significant number of people who remain uninsured, or who are on Obamacare but are struggling to meet its rising costs without the help of a government subsidy. For these families, it may seem that their only choice is between an unaffordable policy and the risk of no insurance at all.
But these are not the only choices. There are many other lesser-known options that can provide the essential insurance coverage you need at much more affordable prices.
Health-sharing ministries are not insurance in the traditional sense. Instead, they’re non-profit organizations that allow people to share their medical bills. These ministries have been growing in popularity, as Aleteia‘s John Burger reported a few months ago.
There are at least six of them: Samaritan Ministries International, Christian Healthcare Ministries, Christian Care Ministry (Medi-Share), Altrua Healthshare, Liberty HealthShare, and also Solidarity HealthShare, which is for practicing Catholics.
The typical monthly cost is about half that of a traditional insurance plan, but there’s a catch: most of these ministries are restricted to people who practice their faith, while Liberty HealthShare requires members to stand by an ethical commitment to religious freedom.
All of them exempt members from the Affordable Care Act (ACA) tax penalty imposed on the uninsured and members who use them are generally positive about their experiences.
Go off-exchange with private insurance
Not all insurance companies are part of the ACA exchange. You can also find private health insurance that meets the minimum requirements (read: no tax penalty). The National Association of Health Underwriters can help you find a licensed health insurance agent to guide you toward a good policy that may be more affordable than Obamacare.
Patch together your own insurance coverage
If you opt out of Obamacare entirely and are willing to accept the tax penalty, there are alternative forms of insurance or medical care that will allow you to cut costs to such a degree that you’ll save money even after paying the penalty. These options involve a more creative approach to designing your own medical care according to your particular needs.
- Critical illness, accident, and fixed benefit insurance
If you are looking only for a targeted safety net for specific catastrophic medical expenses, Sean Parnell, author of The Self-Pay Patient: Affordable Health Care Choices in the Age of Obamacare, suggests any of these three options instead of comprehensive health insurance: Critical illness insurance protects against the hefty expense of a major illness like a heart attack or cancer; accident insurance covers the treatment of injuries from, say, a car accident; and fixed benefit insurance is a variation of accident insurance that tends to offer more generous benefits. None of them exempts users from the tax penalty, but they are all cheaper than Obamacare even with the penalty factored in.
- Short-term health insurance
Parnell also suggests short-term or limited duration health insurance as an affordable alternative to comprehensive coverage. Most of these plans are intended for people who are in a transition period of a year or less, but they can be renewed every year. The bad news: preexisting conditions are not covered and you will have to pay the ACA tax penalty. The good news: even with the penalty, your overall medical costs will be lower.
- Enlist in concierge or direct-care medical practices
For uninsured self-pay patients or for people with high-deductible insurance, Parnell recommends concierge or direct-care medical practices like MedLion, which charge a monthly fee in exchange for either unlimited or generous access to a primary care doctor. This is an excellent option for people who need more one-on-one time with their doctor, or who will be making frequent visits. Again, this option does not exempt users from the ACA tax penalty, but it is a good way for self-pay patients to get more value for their dollar.
- Convenient care and urgent care clinics
Self-pay patients who want to save money can also use convenient care clinics, which are typically located in shopping centers, big-box stores like Walmart, or drugstores. The nurse practitioners in these clinics are able to diagnose and treat most standard ailments and infections, and they are also open on weekends and after workday hours. Pricing is up-front and transparent. Urgent Care clinics offer emergency room treatment at a fraction of the cost, and many also offer discounts for self-pay patients.
- Consumer telemedicine
Want to get medical advice over the phone? Try consumer telemedicine, which lets you communicate with doctors over the phone, via email, and even by video conferencing after having filled out your medical history online. This option is significantly cheaper than a visit to the doctor’s office, and is best suited for common ailments.
- Online booking, shopping, and bidding; medical tourism
Two websites, Medibid and Health Care Blue Book, allow patients seeking hospital-based or surgical care to pay less by making providers bid for their medical care. Providers may be based anywhere in the country, or even in the world, but the cost will typically be about half of what insurance companies pay per treatment. The very best deals, however, are to be found overseas through medical tourism, allowing patients to save “50 to 90% off the cost of a procedure” performed abroad, versus in the United States. Many people travel to Mexico, India, Spain, Brazil, the Philippines, Thailand, Argentina, Panama, Chile, and Singapore for more affordable treatments.
For a much more comprehensive treatment of options, consult The Self-Pay Patient: Affordable Health Care Choices in the Age of Obamacare by Sean Parnell or visit his blog at www.SelfPayPatient.com.