Money-Saving Tips If You Can't Afford Health Insurance

Protect your health and wallet with these strategies

Female doctor checking heart rate of male patient
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If you're struggling to make ends meet, you may be tempted to forgo health insurance. While it may not seem worthwhile to pay a monthly health insurance premium when you can't pay your bills, going without health insurance can be bad for your health and your finances.

This is because medical emergencies can happen at any age, and when they do, they can be particularly expensive if you have to foot the bill yourself. As an uninsured individual, you may end up owing a lot of money for several years. For this reason, it's important to establish a plan for paying medical costs that doesn't break the bank. These money-saving tips for paying for health care will help you reevaluate the belief that you can't afford health insurance and adopt a plan that suits your budget.

Uninsured non-elderly adults were over twice as likely as insured adults to have had difficulty paying medical bills in 2018, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Choose High-Deductible Plans

If you are struggling to find health insurance with affordable monthly premiums, consider getting a high-deductible health plan (HDHP). An HDHP covers similar services as a traditional plan, including expenses for catastrophic events that could otherwise bankrupt you. But it comes with a higher deductible—the amount you pay before insurance kicks in—in exchange for lower monthly premiums. The IRS defines HDHP as any plan with a deductible of at least $1,400 for an individual or $2,800 for a family in 2020. Moreover, out-of-pocket costs (deductibles, copays, and coinsurance) for these plans are generally no more than $6,900 for an individual and $13,800 for a family.

The limits for out-of-pocket expenses don't apply to out-of-network services.

However, once you meet the deductible, the coverage will kick in and cover a large portion of your remaining expenses with the exception of copays and coinsurance.  It is a lot easier to pay $1,400 then it would be to pay for a $7,500 for a broken leg, for example. If you have an extended hospital stay, costs can add up even more quickly—a three-day stay alone can set you back an average of $30,000.

Often, the most affordable high-deductible plan is the one offered by your employer. But you may be able to find a more affordable option by looking for insurance through the health exchanges established under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) or directly through insurance companies. However, the former makes some individuals eligible for premium subsidies that can further reduce your monthly premium, while you're not eligible for premium subsidies if you go the latter route.

Consider Short-Term Insurance

Short-term plans provide coverage for anywhere from three months to 364 days and generally come with lower monthly premiums than traditional plans. They're an option for those who can't afford traditional health insurance anymore or need to bridge temporary gaps in health coverage—when transitioning from one job to another, for example.

However, you generally get what you pay for with these plans. They offer fewer benefits and protections than ACA-compliant plans, which can make them risky, especially if you require ongoing medicare care. You will generally be turned down for coverage if you have a pre-existing condition. Moreover, these plans often impose limits on the number and dollar value of visits to health providers and completely exclude coverage for maternity care and certain serious illnesses.

Some states, such as California and New York, prohibit short-term policies that don't cover pre-existing conditions.

Reduce Costs for Doctor or Hospital Visits

Even with health insurance, you may find it difficult to cover your out-of-pocket costs. For instance, if you need an MRI done, you may have to pay for your deductible and then the coinsurance costs, which means that the test could still run you several hundred dollars or more.

Since many tests and procedures are used to help catch an illness before it becomes serious, opting out of the tests may be a dangerous option in the long run. It's preferable to take measures to reduce the amount you pay when you receive health services.

Look Inside the Network

If you have health insurance, use the provider look-up tool on the website of your insurer to find local physicians and hospitals that are in the plan's network; going "in network" will usually save you money because network providers contract with your insurer and therefore charge lower rates. 

With certain types of plans, such as Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) plans, only services you receive from network providers will be covered, which is all the more important if you find it difficult to afford insurance. In the case of others, such as Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) plans, you will pay less for services from covered providers, but you can still visit out-of-network providers.

Shop Around

Even within a network, the difference in prices between health providers in your area can sometimes be substantial. Take the time to call doctors, urgent care centers, and hospitals to hone in one the ones that deliver services at the most reasonable prices.

Additionally, you may be able to find lower rates at hospitals and testing facilities that are slightly farther from your home. Use websites like to estimate the costs of common medical procedures so you won't be caught by surprise at the doctor's office.

Set up a Payment Plan

Many hospitals and clinics are willing to set up a payment plan that will allow you to get tests and other medical procedures when you need them and spread out the costs over time if you can't afford to pay for them all at once.

However, this approach may prove to be difficult over the long term, especially if you need to set up multiple payment plans with different providers, as the costs can add up quickly. Instead, consider saving up the amount that you need to cover your deductible each year in an emergency fund held in a separate account from the one you use for everyday banking. 

Get Regular Check-Ups

Routine health screenings will help you stay healthy and avoid common illnesses that can incur large medical bills in the future. Stay healthy by exercising, maintaining a good diet, and not smoking.

You can also save on medical costs by promptly receiving care for minor conditions before they become severe illnesses requiring more costly treatment. If you feel sick, take the time to get treated so that you do not require hospitalization or surgery.

Look Into Clinics

If you can't afford health insurance, and you need medical attention, consider getting it from an outpatient clinic, which treats patients who don't need overnight hospitalization and often costs less than a hospital for the same procedure.

Some cities offer free or low-cost clinics that offer sliding-scale fees based on your income, and health insurance may further reduce the amount you pay should you get the care.

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