Learn how to get health insurance quotes from brokers and insurers in your area and how to qualify for cost assistance on the Health Insurance Marketplace.
Below we will discuss the best ways to get health insurance quotes (HINT: Start at ObamaCare’s Health Insurance Marketplace sometimes called “the Marketplace”) and give you lots of helpful advice to help ensure you get the best plan at the best price. We will also discuss where employers can shop for health plans (HINT: Start at ObamaCare’s SHOP).
Basic Advice on Getting Health Quotes
On this page we help you understand the process of shopping for health insurance quotes online, on the phone, and in-person. There are a few different ways to get quotes, which we will discuss below, however your first stop should always be HealthCare.Gov the official Health Insurance Marketplace created by the Affordable Care Act.
HealthCare.Gov (or your state’s Marketplace) is the only place you can get cost assistance to lower your premiums and out-of-pocket costs. HealthCare.Gov is also the simplest way to see if you qualify for Medicaid or CHIP and they can also help you find out if you qualify for Medicare. They will also let you know if another factor, like having coverage through your employer, will keep you from getting cost assistance.
There are a ton of tips and tricks you can use to get the best prices, but the most important trick is making sure you check your options at HealthCare.Gov first.
Top 12 Tips on Health Plans and Health Quotes
Here is our top tips list for getting the best health quotes based on all of our research on the Affordable Care Act and health insurance:
- Make sure you are getting quotes on minimum essential coverage, short term coverage can be smart if you understand what you are getting but it won’t protect you from the fee.
- Get quotes during open enrollment. Minimum essential coverage can only be obtained during open enrollment, unless you qualify for special enrollment. Keep this in mind each year. These are the only times you can change plans and apply for cost assistance as well.
- All cost assistance and insurance options are primarily based on Modified Adjusted Gross Income (MAGI) and the Federal Poverty Level (FPL). If you don’t know what those are, stop and read up on both before comparing quotes.
- Comparing quotes from many sources is the smartest way to ensure you get the best plan. However, you start your journey at HealthCare.Gov and then make your way to insurers and brokers outside the Marketplace. Employers and employees should start Healthcare.Gov/Small-Businesses/ (the SHOP). These options (known as “the Marketplace”) are the only ways to get cost assistance under the Affordable Care Act.
- Brokers and agents outside of the Marketplace can help you enroll in a Marketplace plan and show you plans outside of the Marketplace. So once you understand what the Marketplace is, it is just fine (and sometimes even smart) to get local or on-the-phone help direct from an insurer or from a third party broker.
- If you or a family member has access to an affordable employer plan (9.56% of MAGI) you won’t qualify for cost assistance. With this in mind the employer plan is almost always the cheapest plan due to employer contributions.
- If you qualify for Medicaid or CHIP you’ll most likely want that (it’s a free or low cost public program that was expanded under the Affordable Care Act). It’s way cheaper than private insurance on or off the Marketplace. However, the quality isn’t always on par with private health plans. Make sure you understand your income as compared to the federal poverty level before filing out an application on healthcare.gov so you can get the assistance you need and get the health insurance type you want! See our page on subsidies for more guidance on avoiding “subsidy cliffs”.
- If your income is a little just over 400% of the Federal Poverty Level or another amount that would result in no or less cost assistance, consider using an Health Savings Account (HSA). HSA’s can bring down your taxable income and qualify you for more assistance. This can have such a drastic effect that it could easily change “the best health plan” for you.
- If you go with a Marketplace plan (a plan from HealthCare.Gov or your state Marketplace) in most cases you’ll want a Silver plan with an HSA. In short, for many people this will be the best plan you can get.
- Consider not taking all your tax credits up front. It can be attractive to get the lowest price upfront possible, but if you take too much and end up claiming more in Modified Adjusted Gross Income at the end of the year you could end up owing money back up to the repayment limits.
- If you don’t qualify for cost assistance consider options outside of the Marketplace. Going direct to an insurer can lead to some less stringent rules for things like cancellations.
- Don’t worry too much about finding the right source for quotes, that changes from region to region, think more about getting a critical mass of quotes to compare.
Get Quotes, Compare Quotes, and Then Enroll
Your search for a health plan shouldn’t start and end with one set of quotes. To shop smart you’ll want to get quotes from many sources, compare them, and then make your choice for what plan to enroll in. As long as you enroll during Open Enrollment, you will avoid having to make a Shared Responsibility Payment. So by all means, shop for quotes early, take your time, compare quotes, and then when you feel you have the right plan enroll in it. If you don’t get it right this year, start the process again next open enrollment and find a plan that is tailored to your specific needs.
To learn more about shopping smart see our sections on:
- How Health Insurance Works
- How to Buy Health Insurance
- How to Compare Health Plans
- Types of Health Plans
- Tips for Getting the Best Health Plan
Where to Get Health Quotes Individuals and Families
There are lots of options for shopping for health quotes, and your best options is determined largely by your income and the region you live in. In general, if you are under 65 and if make under 400% of the Federal Poverty Level you’ll either use Medicaid or the Marketplace for coverage. However, if you make 300% FPL or more you may want to shop outside the marketplace. This is because marketplace cost assistance works on a sliding scale (the more you make, the less cost assistance you are eligible for), those making 300%-400% FPL get the lowest assistance, and not all plans are offered in all regions through the marketplace.
Let’s look at where to get both private, public, and semi-private health insurance quotes.
Public Health Insurance Quotes
Medicaid and CHIP are the only truly public health insurance options (there is no supplemental private option). Original Medicare is also a public option, however Medicare is typically paired with supplemental Part C, Part D, and/or Medigap. These policies are sold by private companies and thus we didn’t include it in this section.
State Medicaid Offices. If you make under 138% of the FPL, in state’s that expanded Medicaid, or meet other eligibility requirements in states that didn’t, you can use the Marketplace during open enrollment or your state’s Medicaid office to get coverage. CHIP coverage can be obtained this way as well. Medicaid is a free or low cost one-size-fits-all solution. So what you are offered is what you get, no shopping required. Find local state Medicaid offices.
Quasi-Private Health Insurance Quotes For Businesses, Individuals, and Families
While the Marketplaces sell Private plans, those plans are eligible for public federally funded subsidies. Supplemental Medicare plans are also eligible for subsidies. For this reason we have listed them as quasi-private options.
Medicare.Gov. If you are over 65 you’ll probably want to get Medicare Part A and B from Medicare.Gov or SSA.gov. When you shop for supplemental plans during Medicare’s supplemental open enrollment, you’ll be buying your Part C, Part D, and Medigap plans through a private provider. While you can use Medicare.Gov plan finder to compare plans, you’ll use one of the private options below when buying a plan. Getting Part A and B is easy, getting the right supplemental plan requires a lot of shopping for quotes, we strongly suggest getting help choosing a supplemental plan.
Small Business Health Options Program Marketplace. If your business has less than 25 full-time equivalent employees, making average annual wages of $25,000 or less, you’d be foolish not to use the marketplace. You can get tax credits for up to 50% of your share of employee premiums. If you don’t fit those requirements, the currently under utilized SHOP, provides large group buying power that only the biggest firms enjoyed in the past. Utilize the fair prices on employee health plans and the 24/7 help the SHOP offers to ensure you get a health plan that will provide minimum value and meet affordability guidelines. The SHOP includes options for dental and vision. Learn more about the SHOP.
The Health Insurance Marketplace. If you make between 100%-400% FPL your best option, or at least your first option, should be the Marketplace. Those making under 400% of the FPL have access to Premium Tax credits, those making under 250% FPL are eligible for Cost Sharing Reduction subsidies on Silver Plans. Also, in some regions in the U.S. the best value plans for you will be found on the Marketplace, even if you don’t qualify for cost assistance. With 24/7 help, including in-person assistance, it’s hard to argue with the fact you can browse every plan on the Marketplace from one spot. The Marketplace includes options for dental and vision.
Your State Marketplace. The advice for state Marketplaces is the same as the Federally Facilitated Marketplace (FFM) HealthCare.Gov. Just be aware that if your state has it’s own marketplace you’ll use that instead be it coveredca in California, wahealthplanfinder in Washington state, or one of the other state marketplaces.
Private Health Insurance Quotes for Businesses, Individuals, and Families
The options below sell private plans and those plans aren’t eligible for subsidies. That being said, many of the A-list brokers and any provider selling a Marketplace plan or supplemental Medicare plan can help you shop for subsidized coverage through the marketplace. They use agent and broker portals to enroll you directly in Marketplace coverage.
Online Brokers. Online brokers range from A-list brokers who have most plans offered in your region, including dental and vision (which are commonly paired with health insurance), to less reputable brokers with a more narrow selection of plans. Most A-list, and even B-list, web brokers can provide an awesome selection of plans that can sometimes lead to you finding the best option in your region. Often web brokers are our top suggestion for finding a plan outside local agents and the public and quasi-public sources above. See tips below for our top picks for health insurance web brokers.
Phone Brokers and Agents. Just like on the web there are some A-list companies who can offer you quotes and walk you through getting a plan on the phone. Often when you initiate the process of shopping for quotes over the phone the company will either be a web broker, who can point you to a website where you can compare plans with on-phone assistance, or will book a local in-person agent to help you shop for plans.
In-person Agents and Brokers. Using a local in-person health insurance broker or agent is often a great way to go for shopping everything from supplemental Medicare to Private individual, family, or employee plans. In general providers make deals region by region, that means in your specific region a specific provider may have brokered the best deals. It’s more likely a local agent will know what providers offer the best plans for your specific region. Plus in-person assistance allows you to take your time asking questions and discussing plan options. You can always book a follow-up if you need time to think more. Sometimes local clinics and hospitals will have professional in-person assistance.
Direct From Providers. If your Primary Care Provider or Pharmacy suggested an insurer, you may skip the whole shopping for quotes thing and simply call up the Provider you know you want to use. When you call a provider you get access to every plan that provider offers in your region. Be aware, an amazing provider in one region could be the worst choice in another. Kind of like cell-phone service, there is no obvious choice. The best choice depends upon your location.
Before the ACA you could just offer any plan, if some employees could afford it great, if others couldn’t then they didn’t have to take it. Today things aren’t as cut and dry. You need to provide coverage that meets employer guidelines, or you’ll owe a fee if you are a larger company. For this reason we suggest using the Small Business Health Options Program marketplace. Find a plan that all your employees can afford, and consider offering a range of plans to ensure you not only offer coverage, but offer affordable coverage. Using a local agent is great, but it’s important to understand the law and to understand your new options as a business owner. You may even qualify for Premium Tax Credits!
TIP: Make sure to understand the new guidelines for reimbursing employees for individual health plans. Large employers who reimburse employees for health plans to satisfy the mandate can end up owing a very large per-employee excise tax.
Remember quotes are always free, and you never are obligated to buy until you are ready. That being said make sure you are getting Major Medical coverage that counts as Minimum Essential Coverage and maintaining that throughout the year to avoid the fee. Major Medical can only be obtained during that insurance type’s Open Enrollment Period.
Health Plan Prices are Regulated, the Only Way to Save Money is Cost Assistance and Shopping Around
Any given plan, without cost assistance taken into account, will cost the same person, in the same region, the same amount, regardless of where they buy it. In other words plan X will always have the same base price-tag and only cost assistance offered on the Marketplace can lower that!
You can save money by choosing the right plan and you can save money on cost assistance, but one source can’t offer you a better deal on a specific plan than an other source.
Although the same plan will always have the same price without cost assistance you can find similar plans at better prices and with better benefits by shopping smart. Each provider makes deals with local health care providers, so any given provider could offer the best network and benefits in your region. Also everyone’s medical needs are unique, so one plan may provide better value to you than another similarly priced plan due to that plan’s cost sharing amounts.
Given the fact that comparing benefits of plans is the key to saving money on health insurance, shopping around for quotes from different sources and then comparing prices and benefits against your needs is the best way to save money on health insurance. Considering how important comparing plans is, we suggest reviewing our tips for getting the best health plan page before choosing a plan.
How Does Commission Affect Health Insurance Prices?
With health insurance commission is based on what plan you are sold, however prices can’t be inflated to increase commission. So you won’t save on a given plan by going direct to a provider as opposed to using an in-person insurance agent. Many companies get residual commission, meaning they get paid every year you renew your plan. Thus, brokers and agents have an incentive to get you on the right plan. Given this, you can usually expect insurance agents to help guide you through the process of getting covered. What you can’t expect is that one source will have the best plan selection. Hence, Shopping For Quotes is important.
Health Quotes are Free, but it’s Health Plans that Matter
Shopping for health insurance quotes is free and easy, the best advice is to go to HealthCare.gov first and then to use trusted sources to shop for quotes in the way that works best for you. Your health care costs will be determined by how good your plan is, quotes just let you compare plans. Since factors that determine premium and plan costs are specific to you, you’ll need to give your information before you can compare quotes so make sure you are giving it to a source you can trust.