So it’s time to walk the stage, toss your cap and get on with life beyond higher education. There’s so much to consider and plan for and it’s easy for even really important things to get lost in the shuffle. It’s likely you’ve never had to deal with your own healthcare before. You probably just went to whatever doctor the rest of the family saw.
Now that you’re on your own, there are a lot of healthcare choices to make, and it’s always best to plan for this stuff before an emergency rears its ugly head. Luckily, we’ve got some helpful tips for grads about to enter the “real world”.
Probably the first big decision you’re going to have to make, and one that will affect everything else, is insurance. There are so many options, and it’s really difficult to figure out what to choose. Be prepared to ask a ton of questions, and also to spend some time really understanding what is being offered before you make a decision. Remember, you’ll most likely be locked in for the remainder of the year.
One bright spot is that you may still be allowed to stay on your parents’ plan until age 26. This is usually your most cost-effective choice, especially if Mom and Dad are willing to foot the bill. Still, if your parents don’t have excellent coverage, you might want to compare it with your other options. And you’ll probably want to go your own way if you’re not living in the same state, as you may have difficulty finding doctors who are considered in network.
If you have health coverage offered to you by an employer, it’s likely far cheaper than shopping your coverage around on your own. This is because employers get group rate coverage, and many even pay a portion of your premiums as a part of your employee benefits package. Be sure to go over the options with the folks in HR, and whatever you do, don’t miss the sign-up deadline.
When employer coverage isn’t an option for you, you’ll need to look into the healthcare marketplace and it may also be a good idea to speak with an independent health insurance brokerage. Be sure you understand fully what you’re signing up for before you choose or you may get stuck with something that just doesn’t work for you.
Health Savings Accounts
If you chose to go with a high deductible plan, you’re going to have a lot of out of pocket expenses if you get sick or injured. This is where health savings accounts (HSAs) can help. They’re special accounts that allow you to put aside money to cover medical expenses. Best of all, the money you save in your HSA is pre-tax which can mean significant savings. These funds can be used for deductibles, copays, coinsurance, even dental work and contact lenses.
Payments and Terminology
There are so many confusing terms surrounding healthcare coverage and insurance. Here are a few of the terms you’ll need to understand about paying for your healthcare.
Premiums: This is the amount you pay to your insurance company each month (or each paycheck if you’re on an employer plan). It remains constant no matter whether you visit a doctor or fill a prescription or not.
Copay: The copay is usually a fixed dollar amount you pay each time you visit a doctor or each time you fill a prescription. Often you’ll have one price for a regular doctor and another price for a specialist. You will likely also have different amounts for prescriptions.
Coinsurance: Coinsurance is very similar to a copay in that it’s a way for you to share expenses with your insurance company, but they’re not actually the same thing. In fact, in some unusual cases, you may have to pay both a copay and coinsurance for the exact same service. Unlike a copay, coinsurance is usually a percentage of the total bill. It often is paid only after you’ve already met your deductible for the year.
Deductible: You may hear a lot about high deductible plans, and they may seem like a great idea because they cost much less than other plans on the open market. But be aware of what you’re signing up for before you choose these. The deductible is the amount you must pay for your healthcare services before your insurance begins to cover your bills. This amount will reset each year, so if you have a $5,000 deductible, and only use $2,500 worth of services, that will be entirely out of pocket for you.
Urgent Care Delivery
While nobody really wants to go to the ER, most people wind up there at some point or another in their lifetime. But if you have a non-emergent issue — like a UTI, cut, sprain or persistent cough — you could wind up waiting for hours as they triage the more serious problems first.
For things that are not truly emergencies, but still warrant urgent medical intervention, consider a healthcare delivery service like DispatchHealth. You can access their services on-the-go from a convenient app, and a home visit with DispatchHealth typically costs 85% less than a trip to the ER. They accept most major insurance plans.
Other common things that DispatchHealth treats includes a fever, the flu, migraines, infections, respiratory concerns, rashes, joint or back pain and digestive problems. And since they’ll send a team of medical professionals to your home or office, you can skip the waiting room at your local emergency room or urgent care clinic and focus on feeling better, faster.
Finding a Primary Care Doctor
Okay, so you’ve figured out the insurance thing, and now you need to pick a doctor. If you’re not staying with the same doc who has treated you before, this can be a daunting task as well.
You’ll need to consider concrete concerns like location, operating hours, and availability. Additionally, you’ll weigh intangible concerns like how well you “mesh” with your doc and how comfortable you are telling him or her the really embarrassing stuff that you’ll need to share.
Be sure to make sure whoever you choose is in your network or you may find your insurance doesn’t want to cover much at all. And also take some time to read online reviews of any doctors you’re considering to get perspectives from their current and former patients.
For college grads in the process of “adulting”, healthcare can be complicated and confusing. But as long as you’re armed with the right knowledge, navigating your healthcare can be a breeze. So keep these healthcare tips top-of-mind as you adjust to your new independence!