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Short-Term Health Insurance 101: How to Enroll

With the end of open enrollment, short-term health insurance may now be your best option for covering your medical expenses. But if you didn't get regular health insurance, how can you go about getting short-term insurance? Here is a look at the different options depending on your unique situation.

Understanding Short-Term Insurance

If you miss the open enrollment period, short-term insurance is available at any time. But you'll want to read the fine print. Since they don't have to uphold Affordable Care Act (ACA) requirements, the plans might not cover pre-existing conditions or certain specific diseases. If you have too many health issues, you might not be approved, and if you let a plan lapse, you might not be able to get back on it. You'll also want to determine if they have any lifetime coverage caps and how high the deductibles are.

Right now, short-term plans last three months and may not be renewable. But a 2017 executive order may change this, allowing plans to last a year. If you're considering short-term plans, keep an eye out for any new law changes that might make them better for you.

Remember: Although people may purchase short-term health insurance for catastrophes, these aren't technically "catastrophic plans." Catastrophic plans are offered through the ACA exchange during open enrollment and are only available to people age 30 or younger, or those who qualify for a hardship exemption.

Options for People With Pre-Existing Conditions

Short-term insurance isn't a great option for everyone. If you have pre-existing conditions, then you may not qualify for the insurance at all. That's why you should consider other options, like Medicare or Medicaid, which you can enroll in at any time.

In states that have expanded Medicaid, the low-cost health care is available for everyone who makes below a state's specified income level. In states that don't offer expanded Medicaid, the low-cost health coverage may only be available to the elderly, pregnant women, people with certain disabilities, and children. For example, in Texas — a state that hasn't expanded Medicaid — the insurance is only available to adults who have disabilities, care for children, or are 65 or older. There's also a Medicaid option specifically for children.

Medicare, meanwhile, is a federal health insurance program for people who are 65 or older, have certain disabilities, or have end-stage renal disease.

Health Sharing Plans

Health sharing plans are another type of short-term health coverage you might consider. These aren't traditional health plans, but they're often used as a form of short-term coverage.

These are typically offered by faith-based organizations that people pay into every month. Needs are then shared and covered by the group as a whole. These plans are available to individuals, married couples, or couples with children. You typically must sign a statement of faith to join, and pre-existing conditions often aren't covered during the first year. There may also be other exclusions, such as not covering certain procedures or restricting coverage for certain medical conditions.

One of these types of plans is Medi-Share, which has seven "share" tiers priced on a sliding scale. The lowest annual price is available to unmarried people ages 18-29.

Special Enrollment Options

If none of these options seem like the right choice for you, consider whether you qualify for the Affordable Care Act's Special Enrollment period. You must have a qualifying life event in order to enroll in the ACA outside of the open enrollment period. These life events include losing health coverage through no choice of your own (such as if you lost a job where you had health coverage), moving, getting married, having a baby, or adopting a child. You will typically only have 60 days to enroll after the life event.

Missing out on the ACA's open enrollment doesn't mean you missed out on your only chance to get health care. Short-term health insurance, Medicaid, and health-sharing plans may still offer you and your family an opportunity to have some type of coverage while you wait for the next open enrollment period to come back around.

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