Self-employed health insurance

A doctor inspects an x-ray of a patient for a possible neck injury at the University of Miami Hospital's Emergency Department on April 30, 2012 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images / June 1, 2012)

Graduating college used to be enough to land you the perfect job with the perfect benefits package. But these days, a lot of us are working part-time jobs with fewer or no benefits, whether by choice or until we land the job we really want (and in some cases, any job).

But compromising your health insurance also compromises your health and your checkbook. Luckily, individual health insurance is available to bridge employment gaps, provide additional coverage, or keep you covered while you build a company or create your own job. Navigating the individual health-insurance market can be challenging at best, especially if it is your first time in this territory.

If you're newly on the hunt for your own health insurance, here are five tips to keep in mind, straight from our licensed agents at eHealthInsurance:

1. Only buy what you need.

It sounds obvious, but sometimes shoppers forget they have options when it comes to purchasing from their health insurance plan's "a la carte" menu.

In most states, benefits like maternity coverage, brand-name prescription drug coverage and chiropractic care are all optional. If it's important to keep your costs low, make sure you don't buy a plan that covers benefits you don't need.

2. Look at more than the monthly premium.


You want your monthly premium to be a cost you can afford, but don't forget to check out each plan's annual out-of-pocket limit. This is the yearly limitation on what you'll be responsible for paying -- in addition to your monthly premiums.


Your annual out-of-pocket limit combines deductibles, co-payments and coinsurance. Once you reach it, your insurer picks up the remaining costs for that year. If that annual amount is more than you can afford, look for another plan or consider buying a different plan and adding supplemental coverage for your worst-case scenario.

3. Make sure your doctor is in the network.

How much is your favorite doctor worth? If you want to continue to visit a particular physician, make sure he or she is within the physician network specified by the insurance plan you're considering -- otherwise, you might have to pay a hefty fee to see that familiar face.

At eHealthInsurance.com, you can use our "Plans with Your Doctor" tool to see only those plans that are accepted by your doctor.

4. Don't overvalue brand names.

Before buying solely based on your perception of a certain brand, do some homework to see how other people feel about it. Our site actually lists customer reviews of most plans, as well as ratings that reflect the company's credit rating and ability to pay claims. Using those ratings rather than being closed-minded about sticking to or avoiding a certain brand name could help save you big money.

5. Don't forget your eyes and teeth.

Don't make the mistake of assuming vision and dental benefits are included in your health insurance plan. That might be the case for some company-backed policies, but in the individual market, these types of benefits must be purchased separately from your health insurance policy.

Sometimes you can buy them as add-ons to your policy under the same insurer, while other insurers might not offer them at all, which means you'll have to find a different insurer for those benefits.

<i>(Carrie McLean is a contributor to Brazen Careerist. She is a senior manager of customer service and retention at eHealthInsurance. Brazen Careerist is a lifestyle and career blog for ambitious young professionals. This isn't your parents' career-advice column. Be Brazen.)</i>


(c) 2012 Tribune Media Services, Inc.