Whether you freelance full- or part-time, it’s not uncommon for your finances to fluctuate occasionally. You may go through seasons that are financially lucrative. At other times, the amount of money in your bank account might be downright scary. No matter where you’re at in your career, having adequate access to healthcare is usually at the top of the priority list for most people. But, if you’re forced to choose between paying for rent, food, or your health, healthcare often gets put on the back burner.
If you have a chronic health condition or you just need to get something checked out by a doctor, adding an extra bill can put some serious stress on already strained resources. These five tips will help you manage your healthcare on a freelancer’s budget, so your health doesn’t have to suffer during the slow times in your career.
Don’t miss the open enrollment for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act
This year, the open enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare, is shorter, and it begins on November 1st and goes until December 15th in the states that use the HealthCare.gov website. Nine states that run their insurance exchanges through a state-run website have extended their open enrollment to a variety of dates. Those states include Colorado, Minnesota, D.C., Rhode Island, Washington, California, Massachusetts, New York, and Connecticut. Check with these states for specific details.
If you miss open enrollment, you’ll only be able to obtain insurance through the Affordable Care Act if you qualify for a special circumstance. These are qualifying events like a job loss, marriage, divorce or becoming a U.S. citizen.
Not sure if you’re eligible for a plan through the Affordable Care Act? For 2018, you must be a U.S. resident, a U.S. citizen or national (or here lawfully), not incarcerated, not enrolled in Medicare, and not have job-based insurance through an employer.
If your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) is no higher than 400% of the federal poverty level (FPL), you’ll qualify for a subsidy to help you pay your monthly insurance premiums, or you may be eligible for Medicaid. Like previous years, if you choose not to enroll in an insurance plan, you’ll be subject to a penalty for every month you remain uninsured, which will be due at the time you file your taxes the following year.
If you’ve never looked into insurance coverage through the ACA, now is the time to do so. For many freelancers, having an insurance plan through the Affordable Care Act can be a saving grace in case of an emergency or illness.
If possible, use an urgent care clinic instead of an ER
Many urgent care clinics accept a wide array of insurance plans, and your copays are typically far less than emergency room visits. Urgent care clinics are equipped to handle a variety of non-life-threatening issues like skin rashes, bronchitis, urinary tract infections, colds and flu. Some clinics have the diagnostic capabilities to treat fractures, strains, sprains, lacerations and other injuries. If you need medications, some facilities stock a supply of regularly prescribed drugs at a reduced cost to patients. Additionally, many clinics will offer discounts to people who pay for the appointment out-of-pocket.
Before you go to the clinic, check the urgent care’s website as well—some clinics maintain an online listing of prices so you can plan for the cost.
Shop around for your prescriptions
Did you know not all pharmacies charge the same price for prescriptions? The cost of medications can vary from one location to another, even within the same city. There are two discount programs which can compare drug costs and help make them more affordable.
The first program is GoodRx. This program examines medication costs and offers discounts on prescriptions from popular pharmacies all across the country. Whether you’re insured or uninsured, you can take advantage of this service, and there are no financial guidelines to qualify for it. For example, a specialized thyroid medication not covered by insurance would cost $40 per month. The GoodRx coupon reduces the expense to about $18.
The second program is Prescription Hope. While the cost of brand-name drugs can be through the roof, this company helps patients gain access to over 1,500 brand-name medications for $50 per month per medication, regardless of the retail cost you might pay at the pharmacy. But you must meet income guidelines to use this service, and it differs depending on the size of your family.
Ask your doctor if they are a member of any discount lab services
Many doctors understand that the skyrocketing costs of healthcare and lab work make quality care out of reach for some people. To offset your costs, ask your doctor if they have a membership with programs that provide lab services to patients at discounted rates.
One such service is the Professional Co-op, which administers routine and commercial lab tests at steeply cut rates for uninsured or underinsured patients. To use this service, your doctor must be a member of the cooperative, and you must have your lab tests completed at a LabCorp in your area. Right now, there’s no database available to indicate which physicians are a member of this program, so you’ll need to ask them.
If your medical bills are mounting, ask for a payment plan
Some providers will reduce the cost when a patient pays their bill in cash. Others may allow you to pay a portion of the bill each month or use a service such as Care Credit—a credit card service which lets you spread your payments over a designated amount of time (like six months or one year) without accruing interest. After the specified amount of time, the interest on these types of credit services is generally higher. Finally, if you’re financially strapped, some medical facilities may offer income-based repayment plans or a sliding fee scale, which allows you to pay what you can afford each month.
Managing your healthcare needs on the sometimes unpredictable income of a freelancer can be stressful. Utilize these resources and research your options, so you have a game plan in case you require medical attention or emotional support. Knowing what’s available to you can help put your mind at ease as you tackle the financial highs and lows that come your way.