Where to Find Low-Cost Health Insurance
If employer-sponsored health insurance isn’t an option, there are other places to find affordable health insurance, like Marketplace exchange plans, short-term health insurance policies or Medicaid. MoneyGeek analyzed publicly available data for various backgrounds and locations to help you figure out where to buy affordable health insurance.
Luckily, there are many ways to get cheap health insurance plans. Medicaid is a government-funded program created for low-income individuals and families. Medicaid offers free or low-cost health insurance coverage, though eligibility requirements vary by state. Seniors can get the cheapest health insurance through a different government program called Medicare, which provides plans like Medicare Advantage that covers most medical expenses.
If you aren't eligible for Medicaid or Medicare, the best way to find affordable health insurance is through your state's Health Insurance Marketplace. On average, these plans cost $477 per month. Rates vary widely depending on your location and premium tax credit eligibility.
Where to Get Coverage
Medicaid Is the Cheapest Option for Low-Income Individuals & Families
As part of the Medicaid expansion, 38 states allow low-income individuals and families to be eligible for Medicaid based on income alone. For the rest of the states, you can’t qualify on just your income level. The income cut-off is usually 133% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL), so a single person must make $17,774 or less to qualify.
The bigger the household, the higher the income cut-off limit. In the 12 states that do not offer income-only Medicaid qualification, you must be low-income and meet another eligibility requirement, including child guardianship or being over the age of 65.
- North Carolina
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
Even though Medicaid benefits vary by state, emergency care, family planning, child healthcare and other select coverages are still free. Depending on your state and income levels, you may have copays for inpatient hospital care, physician visits and prescription drugs.
Do You Qualify for Medicaid Based on Your Income Levels?
In 38 states, whether you qualify for Medicaid is based solely on your income levels as a required part of Medicaid eligibility expansion. The income level differs depending on the size of your household but is the same in 36 of the 38 states. Qualification numbers for Alaska and Hawaii are different. Take a look at the table below to find the income level for your state and find out if you qualify for Medicaid.
State and Household Size Determine The Medicaid Cut-off
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- Household SizeIncome-Level Cut-offAlaska Cut-offHawaii Cut-Off
The Cheapest Marketplace Health Insurance By State
When the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, was passed, it offered a new way for individuals and families to get affordable health insurance. Each state now has its own Health Insurance Marketplace exchange for private insurance. Coverage offerings vary by state. These health insurance plans are the best option for those who don’t have health insurance through work and don’t meet the eligibility requirements for Medicaid or Medicare.
You can get the cheapest health insurance plans by qualifying for a premium tax credit. Even if your income is higher than the federal poverty limit, you can still be eligible. MoneyGeek gathered and analyzed the data to help you find the cheapest health insurance company and Silver plan in your state. Silver plans offer a middle-of-the-road policy, which balances moderate deductibles and costs for healthcare.
Click on your state below to find cheap health insurance plans in your area. Continue reading to learn more about Bronze and Gold plans.
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- StateAverage Cost of Silver PlanCheapest CompanyCheapest PlanPrice for Cheapest Plan
- $680Premera Blue Cross Blue Shield of AlaskaPremera Blue Cross Preferred Silver 3000 HSA$675
- $449Blue Cross and Blue Shield of AlabamaBlue HSA Silver for Business$292
- $418Ambetter from Arkansas Health & WellnessAmbetter Balanced Care 12 (2021)$387
- $504Blue Cross Blue Shield of ArizonaBlue AdvanceHealth Silver - PimaFocus Network$330
- $545Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield DelawareHealth Savings Embedded Blue EPO Silver 3450 HSA$522
- $571Bright HealthSuper Silver 50 + Dental$436
- $525Kaiser PermanenteKP Silver HDHP 5000/20/S8$391
- $482Kaiser PermanenteKP HI Silver 4000/45$467
Bronze, Silver and Gold Plans: Understanding Metal Tiers
The different metal tiers in the Health Insurance Marketplace determine how health care costs are split between you and the insurance company. The more responsibility put on the insurance company, the higher your the cost of your premiums will be.
- Bronze: With the Bronze plan, you take on the most expenses, around 40%. This policy has low monthly premiums averaging $383 nationally but could be costly if you have high medical costs. Our data shows an average annual deductible of $6,791, but maximum out-of-pocket costs of $8,137 per year. A Bronze plan is best suited for individuals who can pay for their own routine care but want coverage for serious illnesses or injuries.
- Silver: Expect to pay around 30% of your medical costs if you choose a Silver plan. Your premium will be higher than a Bronze plan with a national average of $503 monthly, but this plan has a lower annual deductible. We found the average annual deductible in a Silver plan is $4,236, while the average out-of-pocket maximum is $7,954. With the Silver plan, you may qualify for extra savings called cost-sharing reductions, which can lower your copays, co-insurance and deductibles. If you qualify, you might save thousands with a Silver plan versus a Bronze plan.
- Gold: Individuals and families with a Gold plan pay the highest premiums, an average of $562 monthly. But, you also pay fewer insurance costs, around 20%. The Gold plan has a low deductible and out-of-pocket maximum, averaging $1,500 and $6,650 per year, respectively. If you expect high medical bills and can afford the monthly premium, the higher Gold plan premium may be worth it to get most of the costs covered by the insurance company.
Some states also have a policy with a very high deductible called a Catastrophic health insurance plan. You can also get a Platinum plan in some states, which offers the lowest deductible but the highest monthly premium. A Catastrophic plan is best for the young and very healthy, while the Platinum plan is for those who expect very high medical bills.
What Marketplace Health Insurance Always Covers
When you buy health insurance on the Marketplace, insurance companies are required to cover these health benefits:
- Ambulatory patient services
- Chronic disease management, preventive and wellness services
- Emergency services
- Lab services
- Mental health and substance abuse disorder services
- Pediatric health services, including dental and vision
- Pregnancy, maternity and newborn health care
- Prescription drugs
- Rehabilitative and habilitative services and devices
Other health services, like medical management programs for diabetes and weight management, may also be covered but vary by plan. For instance, not all Marketplace health insurance plans offer dental and vision coverage for adults.
Cheapest Health Insurance Alternatives
If you can’t get cheap health insurance plans through your job, Medicaid or your state’s Marketplace, you still have options. You may find low-cost coverage through Medicare, non-compliant Affordable Care Act plans, short-term health insurance, a local healthcare sharing ministry or Farm Bureau health plans.
Permanent residents and U.S. citizens 65 and older can get Medicare. You can also qualify before age 65 by meeting certain criteria; for example, if you are a disabled government employee, have permanent kidney failure or are employed with a railroad company, you may qualify. There are four parts to Medicare. The first two are offered through the government, while the last two are available through private insurance companies:
Pays for inpatient hospital care, some home health care, hospice care and limited time in a skilled nursing facility after a hospital stay.
Medical insurance that pays for doctors and health care provider services, home health care, outpatient care, durable medical equipment and certain preventive services.
Now called the Medicare Advantage Plan, Part C combines all benefits and services under Parts A and B in one plan.
Provides coverage for prescription drugs.
Short-Term Health Insurance
Short-term health insurance plans offer up to a year of coverage but aren’t as comprehensive as Marketplace plans. These plans provide coverage for doctor visits, urgent care, emergency care and preventive care and may offer some prescription drug coverage. They are designed to fill temporary gaps in coverage and can be canceled anytime without penalty.
Short-term health insurance comes with high deductibles, no pre-existing condition coverage and little government oversight as coverage is not standardized or mandated. Because of these qualities, plan offerings, coverage limits, exclusions and costs vary widely by the insurance carrier. You may also have to complete a medical questionnaire, which will help the insurance provider determine if you are approved or denied coverage.
Farm Bureau Health Insurance
If you’re healthy and don’t qualify for Marketplace subsidies, Farm Bureau plans may be cheaper than other alternatives. Like short-term health plans, Farm Bureau health insurance may not cover pre-existing conditions or could have a waiting period before these conditions are covered. Your medical history is a factor when you apply, and could cause you to be denied coverage.
Though Farm Bureau plans can be relatively affordable, these cheap health insurance plans are not compliant with the Affordable Care Act regulation and don’t have to cover the 10 essential health benefits. Coverage varies by state, but you can apply year-round if you’re a Farm Bureau member, which comes with a separate annual membership cost.
Expert Advice: Finding Affordable Health Insurance
- What are the pros and cons of buying health insurance plans with cheaper premiums?
- If I’m not eligible for Medicaid or Medicare, what other options are there for cheap health insurance coverage?
- Can I still get quality coverage if I buy a cheap health insurance plan?
Associate Dean of Graduate Business Programs and Professor of Finance at the University of Portland's Pamplin School of Business
Assistant Professor of Finance at Western Kentucky University
Professor of Finance and Quantitative Methods at Bradley University
Associate Professor of Marketing at Lynn University
Financial Planner at Arnold & Mote Wealth Management
Schnell Family Chair in Econ-Capital Systems and Associate Professor in Economics and Management and Public Health at Gustavus Adolphus College
Associate Professor of Economics at Augustana College
Assistant Professor of the Practice of Health Care Management at the Phillips School of Business at High Point University
Associate Professor at the Department of Economics, University at Nebraska at Omaha
Visiting Associate Professor of Economics at Tippie College of Business at the University of Iowa
Adjunct Faculty Member at Baldwin Wallace University
CEO & Principal Advisor at Raisonné & Hammer Price Corporation
Faculty, BS in Health Studies Program at Walden University
Practitioner in Residence at the University of New Haven
Visiting Assistant Professor of Economics and Business at Centre College
Senior Research Economist at Center for Retirement Research at Boston College
Adjunct Professor at the School of Business, Quinsigamond Community College
Greg Vital - Franklin Farrow Associate Professor in Healthcare Administration at the University of Tennessee
Assistant Professor of Health Care Management at the University of Minnesota Duluth
Professor at Florida State University
Assistant Professor of Economics at Missouri Western State University
Professor at the New Mexico State University, College of Business
Associate Professor of Business Economics at Indiana University
Interim MBA Director at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke
Professor of Economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Professor at Tulane University and Chairman at SMG Capital
Assistant Professor of Accounting at Austin Peay State University
Professor of Economics at Augsburg University
Associate Professor of the Practice of Economics and Research Fellow at the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College
Assistant Professor of Economics at St. Catherine University
Assistant Professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas
Assistant Professor of Healthcare Management at California State University, Los Angeles
Associate Professor of Economics in the School of Business at SUNY Geneseo
About the Author
- Healthcare.gov. "Cost Sharing Reduction (CSR)." Accessed December 13, 2021.
- Healthcare.gov. "The 'metal' categories: Bronze, Silver, Gold & Platinum." Accessed December 13, 2021.
- Healthcare.gov. "What Marketplace health insurance plans cover." Accessed December 13, 2021.