Time is running out to buy health insurance. If you aren’t covered by your employer, you will need to buy your own. If you don’t, not only do you risk huge medical bills; you may also face hefty penalties. For coverage beginning Feb. 1, 2017, you need to sign up between now and Jan. 15, 2016. For coverage beginning March 1, 2017, you need to sign up between Jan. 16 and Jan. 31, 2017

It’s time to get started. If you haven’t purchased health insurance on your own before, it may seem daunting. It’s not, if you are prepared. And I’ll let you in on a secret: A qualified agent can help you sort through the options at no cost to you.

Here are some basic tips to help you begin the process:

1) Gather some basic information.

  • Your total annual income before taxes (all sources of income)
  • The total number of people in your household
  • The total number of dependents you claimed on your most recent tax return

2) Consider if you qualify for subsidies or other financial benefits.

Depending on household size, subsidies are available for those earning up to $97,001 for a family of four. If you think you qualify, you should complete a financial determination application through Colorado PEAK to determine if you are eligible.

3) Determine how much health care you will use and how you think about total cost.

  • If you are generally healthy, you may want to choose a lower monthly premium and a higher deductible. But, if you think you’ll be using health care services more frequently, consider a plan that may have higher prices on monthly premiums but offers richer benefits and likely a lower total out-of-pocket cost.
  • And the monthly premium can’t be the sole consideration. There are out-of-pocket costs, including the copay for each medical visit, the deductible and co-insurance.

Getting the right health care providers

There’s one more important questions to ask: Who are the providers in the plan’s network? Are the network providers focused on measuring quality? Will they guarantee you access to their practice?  Do you see specialists, and are they part of the network? (See the Monument Health provider directory to learn more).

You will also want to make sure you understand how deductibles and out-of-pocket costs vary across network tiers.

Still confused?

If this still seems intimidating, that’s okay. You can always turn to a health insurance agent for help at no cost to you. You’ll get help balancing your health needs with your pocketbook to pick the most appropriate plan.

Health insurance agents are certified by Connect for Health Colorado and licensed by the Colorado Division of Insurance. We not only help you enroll; we can help you qualify for financial assistance to lower the cost of premiums.

Beyond that, we can advise, recommend, review coverage options and benefits. And it’s a relationship: We can provide ongoing service with your health insurance policy.

The deadlines—Jan. 15 and Jan. 31—are just around the corner.  Help is available. Just ask.