Having health insurance makes it possible to receive medical care while only paying a fraction of that care’s true cost. Insurance doesn’t cover everything, however. Some of the cost of your care is still up to you to pay, and that cost comes in two primary forms: copays and coinsurance.
What Is a Copay?
A copay is a flat amount of money that you’re responsible for paying for a health care service. Copays typically apply for things like a doctor’s appointment, prescription drug or medical test. The amount of your copay is dependent on your specific health insurance plan.
You can typically expect to pay your copay when you check in for your service, be it an annual physical, dental cleaning or blood test. Copays are typically lower amounts ranging from $10 for something like a generic drug prescription to around $65 for a visit to a medical specialist.
Depending on your insurance plan, copays may not take effect until after you reach your deductible. Your deductible is the amount of money you must pay out-of-pocket before your insurance provider starts to pitch in. Deductibles reset at the beginning of every year.
When you are reviewing your plan information and you see the phrase “after deductible” or “deductible applies” in reference to your copays, that’s an indication that the copay is only in place once you meet your deductible. On the other hand, if you see “deductible waived,” that’s a sign that your copay is in place from the beginning. It may go without saying, but the latter situation is vastly preferable to you.
What Is Coinsurance?
Coinsurance is another method of splitting the cost of medical coverage with your insurance plan. A coinsurance is a percentage of the cost of services. You pay the percentage, and your insurance company foots the rest of the bill. So, if you have a $8,000 medical bill and a 20% coinsurance, you would be on the hook for $1,600.
Coinsurance typically only comes into play after you hit your deductible. Further, you may have differing coinsurance percentages for the same services depending on your provider network. If you have a preferred provider organization (PPO) plan, your coinsurance could be a higher percentage for providers outside your network than it is for providers in your network.
Similarly, your coinsurance may not apply to providers outside your network if you have a health maintenance organization (HMO) plan or an exclusive provider organization (EPO) plan. That’s because these plans typically don’t provide any out-of-network coverage.
Copay vs. Coinsurance
Copay and coinsurance are very similar terms. They both have to do with portions of the cost of your health care that’s under your responsibility. Because of that, and their similar names, it’s easy to confuse the two. There are a couple of important distinctions to keep in mind, however.
The most notable difference between copays and coinsurance is that copays are always a flat amount and coinsurance is always a percentage of the cost of the service. Another difference is that some copays can be in place before you hit your deductible, depending on the specifics of your plan. With coinsurance, you have to hit your deductible first.
If you’re choosing between health insurance plans, make sure to examine the provided copays and coinsurance for each option. While they may not be the most important factor to consider, a high copay can be quite a pain, especially over the course of years of appointments and procedures.
Tips for Staying on Top of Medical Expenses
- One of the best ways to stay ahead of surprise medical expenses is to have an emergency fund in place for just such a situation. If you can manage it, have three to six months worth of expenses stashed away in a high-yield savings account. That way, if you’re dealing with medical bills or have to step away from work, you’ll have a bit of a cushion.
- If you’re not sure how an unexpected medical expenses would fit into your finances, consider working with a financial advisor to develop a financial plan. 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.
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