THE HELP DESK The Help Desk: Top Tips

Buying your own health insurance

47 million Americans go without health insurance. Here is your guide to buying insurance on the private market.

EMAIL  |   PRINT  |   SHARE  |   RSS
google my aol my msn my yahoo! netvibes
Paste this link into your favorite RSS desktop reader
See all RSS FEEDS (close)
By Gerri Willis, CNN personal finance editor

For more information on managing your largest investment, check out Gerri Willis' 'Home Rich,' now in bookstores.

NEW YORK ( -- To be clear, we're talking about people here who don't qualify for Medicaid or COBRA. If this is you, you may need to buy insurance in the private marketplace.

There are obvious downsides here. Cost is one. People who don't have health insurance pay about $2, 260 in out of pocket costs per year -- that's twice as much as someone who is covered under an employer's plan according to Consumer Reports. And in many states, you can't even get coverage on the private market if you have a pre-existing condition, like diabetes.

But ... the reality is that going without health insurance is dangerous. High medical bills is a main reason why people declare bankruptcy. But you don't have to get an all-comprehensive policy. You can opt for short-term health care or catastrophic insurance coverage that will kick in when there's an emergency.

How to shop for individual insurance plans

There are basically three ways to go.

First, check out insurance comparison Web sites like Use it to get a range of individual health insurance policies and to compare prices and benefit levels.

Next, go to your state insurance department's Web site. Here you may find companies selling individual coverage in your state. And the insurance department may also provide complaint records on individual insurance companies.

Finally, consider using a health care broker who knows your local market. Brokers can help you shop for price. They'll also know what company is more liable to accept you based on your health conditions. The best part is that you won't pay a dime out of pocket says Amir Mostafie at They get a commission paid by the insurance company that you sign up with.

To find an agent in your area, go to the National Association of Health Underwriters at

Know your eligibility

You don't automatically qualify for Medicaid just because you have a low income. It also depends on your family status -- if you have kids etc.

To find out what eligibility requirements of health care programs like S-Chip or programs for the elderly, go to

Got a financial dilemma? Go to to submit questions, read the Help Desk articles and check out new Help Desk videos. And tune in to CNN's Newsroom Tuesdays and Fridays, when Gerri Willis and other experts answer your questions. To top of page

They're hiring!These Fortune 100 employers have at least 350 openings each. What are they looking for in a new hire? More
If the Fortune 500 were a country...It would be the world's second-biggest economy. See how big companies' sales stack up against GDP over the past decade. More
Sponsored By:
More Galleries
10 of the most luxurious airline amenity kits When it comes to in-flight pampering, the amenity kits offered by these 10 airlines are the ultimate in luxury More
7 startups that want to improve your mental health From a text therapy platform to apps that push you reminders to breathe, these self-care startups offer help on a daily basis or in times of need. More
5 radical technologies that will change how you get to work From Uber's flying cars to the Hyperloop, these are some of the neatest transportation concepts in the works today. More
Worry about the hackers you don't know 
Crime syndicates and government organizations pose a much greater cyber threat than renegade hacker groups like Anonymous. Play
GE CEO: Bringing jobs back to the U.S. 
Jeff Immelt says the U.S. is a cost competitive market for advanced manufacturing and that GE is bringing jobs back from Mexico. Play
Hamster wheel and wedgie-powered transit 
Red Bull Creation challenges hackers and engineers to invent new modes of transportation. Play

Most stock quote data provided by BATS. Market indices are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer. Morningstar: © 2018 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Factset: FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2018. All rights reserved. Chicago Mercantile Association: Certain market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. Dow Jones: The Dow Jones branded indices are proprietary to and are calculated, distributed and marketed by DJI Opco, a subsidiary of S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC and have been licensed for use to S&P Opco, LLC and CNN. Standard & Poor's and S&P are registered trademarks of Standard & Poor's Financial Services LLC and Dow Jones is a registered trademark of Dow Jones Trademark Holdings LLC. All content of the Dow Jones branded indices © S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC 2018 and/or its affiliates.