Guest view: Know your health insurance options | Columnists | mtstandard.com - Montana Standard
You may be taking some time this winter break to rest, relax and practice self-care. We encourage some of that self-care to include looking into your health insurance. Yes, I know, not exactly what you want to do with your time off, but we promise you, your future self will thank you!
Why is health insurance important? Well, for one, we’re still in the middle of a public health crisis. Secondly, we know how quickly injuries can happen, especially while skiing, or just out walking on icy sidewalks! Thirdly, if you are a student in the University system, you are required to be covered, unless you are a student who qualifies for Indian Health Service.
At Forward Montana, we work with young people across the state and recognize how systems like politics, and health care, can be confusing. That’s why we’re here to try to demystify your options.
If you are employed and get coverage through your employer or get insurance through your parent’s plan, great! You are all set (thank you, Affordable Care Act). Whether you are in-state or from out-of-state, you may want to double-check your network so you see doctors who are in-network. Doctors that are not covered (AKA out-of-network) can end up being hard on your wallet, since you will pay more to see them, sometimes a lot more.
If you're not on your parent's plan and don’t get insurance through your workplace, don't panic. You have choices including Montana Medicaid, the Health Insurance Marketplace, and the Montana University System student plan.
Montana Medicaid provides free or low-cost, comprehensive coverage. This means that most of your health care costs will be paid for by Montana Medicaid. For a single person, you may qualify if you make less than $1,481 per month or $17,774 a year. If you earn more, you may be able to purchase a Marketplace plan.
The Montana Marketplace includes plans you may already be familiar with like Blue Cross Blue Shield. Most Montanans who enroll in these plans qualify for tax credits that make your monthly payments more affordable (another provision of the Affordable Care Act). Plans are also more affordable than ever because of the American Rescue Plan Act. You have until Jan. 15 to enroll, so check it out today to ensure you get covered in time.
The last option for students in Montana is the Montana University System student plan. Students taking at least six credits may be eligible to purchase this option. The Academic Blue plan provides comprehensive coverage, and students can opt into purchasing the plan during registration…but it does come at quite a cost. Academic Blue is about $385 per month and doesn't qualify for free financial help such as tax credits. If you are receiving financial aid it can be paid for through that, but we crunched the numbers and it's about $18,000 extra onto your existing student loan debt for four years of school.
We know that this world of health insurance is complicated and messy, especially if you’re trying to navigate it alone. Until federal policies reform the health insurance inequities, we still need to make sure we’re covering our health needs. Students have more coverage choices than ever, so please don't wait too long! Open Enrollment for the Health Insurance Marketplace closes on Jan. 15. Learn more about your coverage options and get free help, visit healthcare.gov or covermt.org. We hope that everyone can take a few minutes to see if there is a better, more affordable health care option out there.
Kiersten Iwai is executive director of Forward Montana.
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