Are you or your child getting close to needing your own health insurance? Unsure of where to start? It’s normal to feel overwhelmed during the process of getting health insurance for the first time. There are ways to alleviate the stress and educate yourself in order to decide what health insurance plan is right for you.

When do I actually lose Coverage?

In most states, single individuals are able to stay on their parent’s health insurance plan until age 26. Some states, like New jersey, allow some dependent and unmarried adults to stay on their parent’s plan until age 31. It’s important to research the guidelines on a state to state basis.

Typically, individuals sign up for insurance plans with their state during open enrollment. Open enrollment varies from state to state, but for most it is November 1st to December 15th. However, turning 26 is what’s known as a “qualifying event” and allows you to enroll outside of the open enrollment period. If you don’t sign up in the allotted time, usually 30 days, you will have to wait until the next open enrollment period to sign up for an insurance plan.

You Snooze, You Lose

One of the most important things to know when it comes to applying for your own health insurance is to plan ahead. Individuals typically have a 1- to 2-month grace period to sign up for a new insurance plan after turning 26. The last thing you want to happen is to lose your coverage and then have to go for a period of time with no insurance at all.

In the months before turning 26, be proactive and reach out to your employer’s human resource department to learn what the steps are to enroll in their health insurance plan. This will give you time to sort through all the information and choose the right plan. If you are currently unemployed or your employer does not offer health insurance, start researching the marketplace health plans available.

Choosing a Plan

Once you reach out to your human resources department, they will most likely provide you with various health plans to choose from. Typically, if you are a healthy, young adult, you can sign up for the least expensive plan.

Keep in mind, the plan with the lowest premium, or price you pay per month, will probably have a higher deductible. The deductible is how much you have to pay before your insurance begins covering some or all of your medical expenses. When deciding which employer plan is best for you, consider your health as well as how much you can afford.

Your employer plan may also have additional coverage costs for dental and vision insurance. Check with your dentist and eye doctor what the cost is for an annual visit. If the cost is less than the dental and vison insurance costs, they may not be necessary coverage costs right now.

You’re Worth it

Although the cost of health insurance may seem like a major financial burden, it is much less expensive than going uninsured and having a medical emergency. Medical emergencies can happen to anyone and at any age. Out-of-pocket costs can be astronomical when you don’t have any insurance to fall back on.

A visit to the ER can cost anywhere from $150 to several thousand dollars depending on the severity of your injuries or illness. If critical care is needed, the expenses could be as high as $20,000. Pay for the insurance now, and you won’t be in financial trouble if you need serious medical attention later.

As you start your search for a new health plan, remember to stay informed and be proactive. There are many sources out there to help guide your search. If you start early and ask for help, you will be able to find the health insurance plan that’s right for you.