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What every caregiver needs to know about signing up for health insurance

Even though we have a few more weeks of 2020 left, it’s time to start preparing for 2021. One of the most important items to take care of is your health insurance. As you may know, the Affordable Care Act mandates that you have a health insurance policy. While there is no longer a fine for not having coverage, it’s still important for caregivers to be insured so you don’t have to worry about a significant injury or illness crippling you financially.

“I feel safer having health insurance, knowing I’m not going to have to take a day off work, go to some sketchy part of the neighborhood and wait all day [if I get sick],” says Meg W., a caregiver living in Los Angeles. “I feel good knowing that I’m being protected and my health is now a priority.”

Here’s everything you need to know about open enrollment and signing up for health care insurance.

What is open enrollment?

Open enrollment is a period of time when individuals can purchase health insurance or renew their existing policy. Anyone can purchase a policy — even if one is already offered through your employer.

When is open enrollment?

For health care coverage in 2021, open enrollment runs from Nov. 1 through Dec. 15. Outside of this period, you are not able to enroll in health care unless you have a qualifying life event, such as moving to a new state, getting married or having a baby. If this occurs, you have a 60-day window to purchase health insurance to accommodate your new life situation.

How do you obtain a health insurance policy?

You can find and sign up for policies via the federal marketplace healthcare.gov or check to see if your state has their own marketplace available. There are also other exchanges, such as Stride, that make health insurance policies available to the general public at various price points.

What should you consider when choosing a health plan?

Understandably, you’ll likely want to look at cost as a primary factor for what health insurance plan you choose. However, several other factors should be considered before you purchase a policy:

  • Deductible: How much you’ll have to pay out-of-pocket before the health insurance company covers your medical expenses

  • Copay: The amount you pay out-of-pocket for doctor visits and appointments with specialists

  • Prescription drug coverage: Typically tiered, depending on what medication you need, and certain plans have different price points for each tier

  • Network coverage: Check to see if your doctor is in network with the insurance company you’re considering. If they’re not, you’ll probably pay more for an appointment.

You should also factor in your overall health. If you have no dependents, are rarely sick and not on a regularly prescribed medication, you may not need a very robust health insurance policy. However, if you have dependents, seem to catch a cold or get injured several times per year and have medications you take on a regular basis, it may be worth it to buy a more expensive health insurance policy with lower deductibles and a cheaper prescription drug coverage.

How can you lower the cost of your insurance premiums?

Many caregivers may qualify for federal subsidies that will allow you to get health insurance at a discounted rate. The Kaiser Family Foundation has a calculator tool that you can use to estimate the subsidy you could receive. It takes into account your income, number of adults and children enrolling in coverage, the state you live in and other factors. If you enroll with a company like Stride, the subsidies you qualify for will automatically be shown to you.

Part of being eligible for discounted health insurance is filing a tax return. That means your employer needs to be following household employment payroll and tax laws, which includes withholding taxes. Please note, however, that the subsidy is intended to assist you financially if you have to pay for your own insurance. If your employer includes health insurance reimbursement as part of your regular wages, it may impact your ability to receive a subsidy.

Spread the word to other caregivers

If you have friends thinking about dropping their current health insurance plan or not signing up for coverage, now is a great time to let them know the negative effect this could have. There are many levels of insurance available to purchase, so it’s likely that your peers can find a plan in a price range that is comfortable for them. Having peace of mind knowing that an illness or injury won’t result in a substantial out-of-pocket expense is worth the investment.

Read next: What every nanny needs to know about taxes and payroll