Congrats, Class of 2016! Know your options for health insurance after graduation

Grads toss caps in the airCongratulations, Graduate! As you’re setting off into your future, make sure to include health coverage in the important decisions you’re making.

Here are five things to consider to help protect your health (and your budget!) with affordable coverage:

1) You can get health coverage now through Maryland Health Connection if you’re losing your student health plan or have recently experienced other major changes.
You can enroll any time of year through if you’re losing other health coverage such as a student health plan, coverage through an employer, or aging out of a parent’s health plan because you’re turning 26.

Other major life changes also qualify you to enroll at any time, including moving to Maryland, getting married, or having a baby. See our full list of changes that may qualify you to get covered any time of year. If these don’t apply, Open Enrollment starts this fall for coverage that begins January 1.

2) You can stay on Mom or Dad’s health plan until you turn 26.
This is true even if you aren’t living with your parents, aren’t financially dependent on your parents, are married or are eligible to enroll in your employer’s plan.

3) You may be able to enroll on your own through and get financial help.
You may qualify for free health coverage through Medicaid if your annual income is less than $16,394 for an individual.

Or, if your annual income is less than about $47,000 for an individual, and you’re not eligible for affordable coverage through an employer, you may qualify for financial help to make a private plan more affordable. This could include tax credits to lower your monthly premium and lower out-of-pocket costs like your deductible and copays.

Plans available through Maryland Health Connection (and most other plans) cover essential health benefits such as doctor visits and hospitalization, and provide free preventive care, such as vaccines and checkups. They also cover some costs for prescription drugs.

4) Do your homework before buying a health plan.
If you enroll in a private plan through Maryland Health Connection, there are many types of plans to choose from. Just like in school, it’s important to do your homework so you can understand what you’re buying.

Consider not only a plan’s monthly premium (your bill each month) but also the deductible (what you’ll pay out-of-pocket before your plan begins to share the costs of medical care), and annual out-of-pocket maximum (the most you’ll have to pay for covered services in a year before your health plan will pay 100% for covered essential health benefits).

If you’re under 30, you can buy a “Catastrophic” plan that is low-cost but only protects you mainly from medical bills in worst-case scenarios. You also will get three primary care visits per year and some preventive care, like flu shots, at no cost.

5) Don’t risk going uninsured.
In addition to protecting yourself from unexpected medical expenses (think an accident during that post-graduation road trip!), having health coverage means avoiding the penalty most adults will have to pay at tax time if they are uninsured.

For 2016, the penalty is 2.5% of your gross household income or $695 per individual, up to $2,085. You’ll have to pay up to the IRS if you’re without health coverage for three or more months in the year and don’t qualify for an exemption from the fee.