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Here's a guide to health insurance alternatives.

Traditional health insurance can be very expensive, but there are lower-cost alternatives. As you look for ways to save money while also protecting yourself in case you get sick or injured, it pays to be informed about those options. While examining the pros and cons of some of the alternatives, consider also consulting a financial advisor to take a glance at your whole financial life in a holistic capacity.

1. Cost-sharing Programs

People in these plans pool their resources to share medical costs. They don’t function in the same way health insurance does, but they are similar in some ways. For instance:

  • Members pay monthly fees that are similar to insurance premiums but generally lower.
  • When members receive care, they pay a fee much like a co-pay to cover part of the cost.
  • The rest of the cost of care is covered at a rate similar to insurance.
  • Programs negotiate discounts with doctors, hospitals and other providers.

Medical cost-sharing programs are sometimes faith-based. Some programs ask members to follow tenets of the faith, such as avoiding alcohol. They might also offer several options with different share requirements. Shares are often based on the number of people in the family and the age of the oldest applicant in household. In one example in particular, annual shares range from $1,000 for young, unmarried singles to as high as $10,500 for families.

2. Short-term Insurance

Short-term insurance offers coverage for periods of a month to a year. While it doesn’t meet the essential benefit requirements to satisfy the mandate of the Affordable Care Act, it works similarly to long-term health insurance.

Short-term health insurance typically has a low deductible. It may not matter whether you get treatment in or out of a provider network. And there is no open enrollment period.

Premiums are lower than most long-term health insurance. Some providers advertise premiums as low as $2 a day.

One shortfall is that short-term health insurance does not cover pre-existing conditions. Nor does it typically cover mental health treatment or costs of a normal pregnancy, although it may cover complications of pregnancy.

3. Association Health Plans

Here's a guide to health insurance alternatives.

Association health plans cover groups of small businesses and individuals. Writers, musicians, farmers, actors and other self-employed people may be able to join industry-specific association plans.

These groups buy health coverage for all members, often at significant savings to what members would pay if they bought insurance on the open market as unaffiliated individuals. Although association health plans are still a form of health insurance, they are not regulated as tightly and lack some of the minimum benefits required for ACA plans.

Individuals and small businesses can check with their state’s department of insurance by phone or online to identify an appropriate association health plan. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners maintains a list of state websites and contact information. Chambers of Commerce and professional organizations may also have information on association health plans.

4. Health Savings Account (HSA)

If you have a high-deductible health insurance plan, including one purchased through ACA health exchange, you may be able to set up a health savings account (HSA). Money you deposit in the health savings account is deductible from your federal income taxes, up to a set amount.

The limit on tax-deductible HSA deductions changes yearly. For 2019, individuals can contribute $3,500. Families can contribute $7,000.

You can pay qualifying health expenses including deductibles and co-pays with a debit card tied to the health savings account. If you pay upfront for health services using cash or a credit card, you can reimburse yourself from funds in the HSA.

Either way, disbursements from the account are also free from federal income tax. The combination of tax benefits of the health savings account with the low premiums of high-deductible health insurance make this a lower-cost alternative for those who are still considering traditional health insurance.

5. Health Discount Card

Here's a guide to health insurance alternatives.

Health discount cards give holders a discounted rate on services from participating healthcare providers. These cards do not act as insurance. They are only for people who are paying cash for medical care.

Participating providers may include hospitals, physicians, dentists, optometrists, chiropractors and others. Having these cards may mean you are eligible for discounts on some prescription drugs.

Some cards require an annual or monthly membership fee. Fees are generally less than $10 a month. Others don’t require any fee at all.

The discounts vary widely but can be as much as 85%. The major limitation is that providers have to be participants in the card’s plan.

The Bottom Line

Conventional health insurance available through the Affordable Care Act exchange has appealing benefits such as coverage of pre-existing conditions and the possibility of subsidies. But the premiums for conventional health insurance don’t fit every budget. One of these lower-priced alternatives may give you the protection you need for a price you can afford.

Tips for Managing Your Healthcare Costs

  • Shop around. Considering alternatives to health insurance is important for maintaining a healthy budget. A comprehensive budget calculator can help you understand which option is the best for you.
  • Get informed about the future. Medicare for All is a major issue in the 2020 presidential election. Find out all you can about what it would mean for your and your healthcare expenses as you strategize alternatives to lower your costs.
  • Get expert help. Just as you would consult a healthcare professional to assess your well being, be sure to consult a financial professional to asses your fiscal well being. Finding the right financial advisor that fits your needs doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with financial advisors in your area in 5 minutes. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors that will help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/stanciuc, ©iStock.com/marchmeena29, ©iStock.com/SARINYAPINNGAM

Mark Henricks Mark Henricks has reported on personal finance, investing, retirement, entrepreneurship and other topics for more than 30 years. His freelance byline has appeared on CNBC.com and in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance and other leading publications. Mark has written books including, “Not Just A Living: The Complete Guide to Creating a Business That Gives You A Life.” His favorite reporting is the kind that helps ordinary people increase their personal wealth and life satisfaction. A graduate of the University of Texas journalism program, he lives in Austin, Texas. In his spare time he enjoys reading, volunteering, performing in an acoustic music duo, whitewater kayaking, wilderness backpacking and competing in triathlons.
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