How I Bought Health Insurance Using HealthCare.gov

I’ve been talking to some of you on the phone lately, asking questions like: Have you or any of your family members ever been denied health insurance? What’s your coverage like? How have your rates changed over time?

We’re curious about real health care stories from rural America because they reveal the everyday reality behind the national health care debate. Today, I’ll share mine.

Just last week, I bought health insurance for myself. Knowing next to nothing about my options, I used HealthCare.gov to help find a plan that was right for me. This government website is a preview of what the new health care exchanges will look like. There was lots of easy to understand information about the new health care law and how it applies to my specific situation.

I answered questions about where I lived, my age, employment status and other demographic info and then pressed “look for plans”. The screen churned for a few seconds, processing my information and these messages popped up:

  • This site organizes and presents information collected from insurers to help you better understand your options. It does not recommend specific plans.
  • The actual premiums you are quoted may be higher than the starting estimates shown here, based on your health status.
  • Until the Affordable Care Act is fully implemented, insurers may deny you coverage based on your health status.

I clicked “show me the plans” and information from private health insurance providers appeared. I had 128 plans to chose from. I could sort based on monthly base rate, annual deductible, out-of-pocket limit, etc. This search tool was relatively straightforward -- like the health care equivalent of Travelocity or Expedia -- but there was also a helpful tutorial for how to compare plan details.

Considering my health and my income, I decided upon “catastrophic”, or high-deductible insurance just in case something really bad (and expensive) happened.

I spent maybe a half-hour scrolling through and comparing plans. I looked at two that had similar monthly rates, except one covered 100% after the deductible -- while the other had 20% coinsurance after deductible. So, I selected what I would call a “no frills” $5,000-deductible plan for about $50 a month. The government webpage transferred me directly to the page of the private insurer. I called them up, and a gregarious guy in Dallas sold me the plan I selected. I paid for six months of insurance in a lump sum.

My situation is a lot simpler than many others. I don’t have pre-existing conditions, prescriptions, or a family to consider. But it took me months of being uninsured before I finally took the leap.

This was partially because before I came to intern for the Center I was living in Scandinavia. When I fractured my ankle I went to the closest hospital in Copenhagen, a nurse took an x-ray and sent me home with a big boot and instructions for care -- all free of charge. There wasn’t even a billing department at this hospital!

Coming back to the U.S., there was definite sticker shock and I was stubborn, thinking “why should I pay so much for something that doesn’t even really cover me?!” But most of my hesitation was really because I didn’t know where to start. Healthcare.gov helped me to triage my concerns and find the best option that I have for now.