What To Look For When Buying Health Insurance For The First Time

So you’re getting ready to purchase health insurance for the first time, and you’re not quite sure where to begin. With so many options and confusing terms, it can feel overwhelming. But fear not! In this article, we’ll guide you through the process of selecting the right health insurance plan for you. From understanding your needs to comparing different plans, we’ve got you covered. By the end, you’ll have the knowledge and confidence to make an informed decision ensuring your health and well-being are in good hands.

What To Look For When Buying Health Insurance For The First Time


Medical services

When choosing health insurance, it’s important to consider the coverage for medical services. You want to make sure that your insurance plan covers a wide range of medical services, from routine check-ups and vaccinations to more specialized care such as surgeries and hospital stays. Look for a plan that provides comprehensive coverage for medical services so that you can feel confident knowing that your health needs will be taken care of.

Prescription drugs

Prescription drug coverage is another essential aspect to consider when purchasing health insurance. A good plan should provide coverage for a wide range of prescription medications, including both generic and brand-name drugs. It’s important to review the plan’s formulary, which is a list of covered medications, to ensure that the prescription drugs you currently take or may need in the future are included. This coverage can help make your medications more affordable and ensure that you have access to the medications you need to manage your health effectively.


Hospitalization can be a significant financial burden without the right insurance coverage. When looking for health insurance, it’s crucial to consider the coverage for hospitalization. Make sure that the plan provides coverage for both inpatient and outpatient hospital services. This coverage should include not only the cost of the hospital stay but also any necessary surgeries, tests, or procedures. With adequate coverage for hospitalization, you can have peace of mind knowing that you will be protected financially in the event of a serious medical situation.

Emergency care

Unexpected medical emergencies can happen at any time, and it’s essential to have insurance that covers emergency care. Look for a health insurance plan that provides coverage for emergency room visits, ambulance services, and emergency medical procedures. You want to ensure that you will be protected financially in case of a sudden illness or injury that requires immediate attention. By having coverage for emergency care, you can receive the necessary medical help without worrying about the high costs often associated with emergency services.

Mental health services

Mental health is equally important as physical health, and it’s crucial to have insurance coverage that includes mental health services. Look for a plan that provides coverage for mental health visits, therapy sessions, and psychiatric medication. This coverage can be beneficial for individuals dealing with mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, or substance abuse. By having access to mental health services, you can receive the necessary support to improve your overall well-being.


In-network providers

Health insurance plans often have a network of providers, including doctors, hospitals, and specialists, with which they have negotiated lower rates. When choosing a health insurance plan, consider the coverage provided by in-network providers. In-network providers are healthcare professionals or facilities that have agreed to the terms and rates set by the insurance company. By choosing in-network providers, you can maximize your insurance benefits and minimize out-of-pocket expenses.

Out-of-network providers

While in-network providers offer the most cost-effective care, there may be situations where you need to see an out-of-network provider. Out-of-network providers are healthcare professionals or facilities that do not have a contract with your insurance company. When considering health insurance, it’s important to understand the coverage for out-of-network providers. Some plans may offer limited coverage or require higher out-of-pocket costs for out-of-network care. Be sure to review the plan’s out-of-network coverage and associated costs to assess whether it meets your needs.

Primary care physicians

A primary care physician (PCP) plays a crucial role in managing your overall health. When choosing health insurance, consider the availability and coverage of primary care physicians. A PCP is often your first point of contact for healthcare needs, including preventive care, routine check-ups, and referrals to specialists. Look for a plan that includes a broad network of primary care physicians in your area to ensure that you can establish a trusted relationship with a healthcare professional who can guide your medical care.


Sometimes, your healthcare needs may require the expertise of a specialist. When evaluating health insurance plans, consider the coverage for specialists. Specialists are physicians who have undergone additional training in specific areas of medicine, such as cardiology, dermatology, or orthopedics. It’s important to have access to specialists when necessary to receive specialized care for your medical conditions. Look for a plan that includes a comprehensive network of specialists to ensure that you can access the care you need.


Oral health is an essential component of overall health, and dental care should not be overlooked when purchasing health insurance. While dental coverage may be offered as a separate plan, some health insurance plans also include basic dental services. Take into consideration whether the health insurance plan provides dental coverage or offers a dental rider that can be added to your plan. This coverage can include preventive services, such as check-ups and cleanings, as well as restorative treatments like fillings or extractions. Having dental coverage can help you maintain good oral health and reduce the financial burden of dental expenses.

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Monthly premiums

When buying health insurance, you will need to pay monthly premiums to maintain coverage. Monthly premiums are the regular payments you make to the insurance company to access their services. It’s important to consider the cost of the monthly premiums when choosing a health insurance plan. Make sure that the premium amount fits within your budget and that you can comfortably afford it. Keep in mind that while lower premiums may seem appealing, they may come with higher deductibles or co-pays, so weigh the overall cost of the plan before making a decision.


A deductible is the amount you must pay out-of-pocket for covered services before your insurance begins to contribute. When selecting a health insurance plan, review the deductible amount. A higher deductible may result in lower monthly premiums but require you to pay more for healthcare services before your insurance coverage kicks in. On the other hand, a lower deductible may mean higher monthly premiums but less out-of-pocket expenses when receiving medical care. Consider your healthcare needs and financial situation to determine the deductible amount that works best for you.


Co-pays, or copayments, are the fixed fees you pay each time you receive certain medical services, such as doctor visits or prescriptions. When evaluating health insurance plans, assess the co-pay amounts for different services. Some plans may have a flat co-pay for all services, while others may have different co-pays based on the type of service or provider. Consider your expected usage of medical services and the potential cost of co-pays to determine if the plan’s co-pay structure aligns with your needs and budget.

Out-of-pocket maximums

An out-of-pocket maximum is the maximum amount you will have to pay for covered services during a policy year. After reaching the out-of-pocket maximum, your insurance plan will generally cover 100% of the remaining costs. It’s crucial to review the out-of-pocket maximum when choosing a health insurance plan. The lower the out-of-pocket maximum, the less financial risk you will have in case of significant medical expenses. Conversely, a higher out-of-pocket maximum may result in lower monthly premiums but leave you with more significant financial responsibility in case of unexpected healthcare needs.

Annual limits

Some health insurance plans may have annual limits on certain coverage areas, such as prescription drugs or mental health services. Annual limits are the maximum amount your insurance plan will cover for a specific service or category within a policy year. When comparing health insurance plans, consider any annual limits that may apply to your specific healthcare needs. Ensure that the limits are sufficient to cover your expected usage of the covered services. Understanding and evaluating the annual limits can help you avoid unexpected out-of-pocket expenses and gaps in coverage.

Pre-existing Conditions

Coverage limitations

If you have a pre-existing condition, it’s crucial to consider the coverage limitations when purchasing health insurance. Some plans may have waiting periods or exclusions for pre-existing conditions, meaning that coverage for your condition may be limited or delayed for a certain period after enrolling in the plan. When evaluating health insurance options, review the coverage limitations for pre-existing conditions to ensure that your specific health needs will be adequately covered from the start.

Waiting periods

Waiting periods are periods of time during which the insurance coverage for a pre-existing condition may be delayed. Some health insurance plans impose waiting periods for pre-existing conditions, meaning that you may not receive full coverage for your condition until a certain amount of time has passed since enrolling in the plan. When considering health insurance options, inquire about any waiting periods and the duration of those periods. It’s important to weigh the potential impact of waiting periods on your health needs before making a decision.


While some health insurance plans may have coverage limitations or waiting periods for pre-existing conditions, there may be exceptions to these restrictions. Some plans may offer immediate coverage for certain pre-existing conditions or have options for obtaining coverage for pre-existing conditions sooner. When researching health insurance plans, inquire about any exceptions that may apply to your specific situation. By understanding the exceptions, you can choose a plan that provides the best coverage for your pre-existing conditions.

What To Look For When Buying Health Insurance For The First Time

Financial Assistance


Health insurance subsidies are financial assistance provided by the government to help lower-income individuals and families afford health insurance. When purchasing health insurance, consider whether you are eligible for subsidies. Subsidies are based on your income and can help reduce monthly premiums or out-of-pocket costs. Research and understand the subsidy options available to you to find a plan that offers the level of financial assistance you need.

Tax credits

Tax credits are another form of financial assistance that can help lower the cost of health insurance. When buying health insurance, explore whether you are eligible for tax credits. These credits can be applied towards your monthly premiums, reducing the amount you need to pay out-of-pocket. Consult with a tax advisor or research the specific tax credit programs available in your area to take advantage of these potential savings.

Medicaid and CHIP

Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) are government programs that provide free or low-cost health insurance coverage to eligible individuals and families with limited income. If you meet the income requirements, you may qualify for Medicaid or CHIP rather than purchasing a private health insurance plan. Research the eligibility criteria for these programs to determine if they are viable options for you. Medicaid and CHIP can be valuable resources to ensure you have access to necessary healthcare services at an affordable cost.

Benefits and Services

Wellness programs

Wellness programs are services or activities designed to promote and improve overall health and well-being. When choosing health insurance, consider whether the plan offers wellness programs. These programs can include various resources, such as gym discounts, smoking cessation programs, or wellness coaching. By participating in wellness programs, you can take proactive steps towards maintaining good health and preventing future health problems.

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Preventive care

Preventive care is essential for staying healthy and detecting potential health issues early on. Evaluate the preventive care services covered by health insurance plans you are considering. Preventive services may include routine vaccinations, screenings for various diseases or conditions, and annual check-ups. Look for a plan that provides robust coverage for preventive care to ensure that you can receive the necessary screenings and vaccinations without additional costs.

Maternity and newborn care

If you are planning to start or expand your family, it’s important to consider the coverage for maternity and newborn care when purchasing health insurance. Look for a plan that provides comprehensive coverage for maternity care, including prenatal visits, ultrasounds, and childbirth services. Additionally, ensure that the plan includes coverage for newborn care, such as postnatal check-ups and vaccinations. Having adequate coverage for maternity and newborn care can help alleviate financial stress during this important time in your life.

Pediatric services

If you have children or are planning to have children, pediatric services are an essential component to consider when buying health insurance. Pediatric services include routine well-child visits, immunizations, and specialized care for children’s health conditions. Look for a plan that offers comprehensive coverage for pediatric services to ensure that your children receive the necessary healthcare throughout their development. Having access to high-quality pediatric care can give you peace of mind as a parent.

Rehabilitation services

Rehabilitation services are vital for recovering from illness, injury, or surgery. When selecting health insurance, evaluate the coverage for rehabilitation services. Rehabilitation services can include physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy. Look for a plan that offers comprehensive coverage for rehabilitation services to ensure that you have access to the therapies you need for recovery and rehabilitation. Having this coverage can help you regain maximum functionality and improve your quality of life after a health setback.

What To Look For When Buying Health Insurance For The First Time

Prescription Drug Coverage


A formulary is a list of prescription drugs covered by a health insurance plan. When considering health insurance options, review the plan’s formulary. The formulary will indicate which medications are covered by the plan and may categorize drugs into different tiers based on their cost. It’s important to ensure that the prescription drugs you currently take or may need in the future are included in the plan’s formulary. Understanding the formulary can help you estimate your out-of-pocket costs for medications and avoid any surprises when filling prescriptions.


Prescription drug formularies often categorize medications into different tiers, each with a different cost-sharing structure. Typically, generic medications are in the lowest tier, with the lowest out-of-pocket costs, while brand-name and specialty drugs are in higher tiers with higher costs. When evaluating health insurance plans, consider the tier structure and associated costs. If you regularly take prescription medications, it may be more cost-effective to choose a plan with lower-tier medications or one that offers more favorable coverage for higher-tier drugs.

Mail-order options

Some health insurance plans offer mail-order prescription services, which allow you to receive long-term medications by mail, usually in a 90-day supply. Mail-order options can be more convenient and cost-effective for medications you take regularly. When researching health insurance plans, consider whether they offer mail-order options and any associated discounts or cost savings. Mail-order services can help ensure that you have a continuous supply of necessary medications without the hassle of frequent trips to the pharmacy.

Generic alternatives

Generic alternatives are lower-cost versions of brand-name medications that contain the same active ingredients. When evaluating health insurance plans, consider the coverage and cost-sharing structure for generic medications. Many plans offer lower co-pays or waive co-pays altogether for generic drugs. Opting for generic alternatives can significantly reduce your out-of-pocket expenses for prescription medications while still providing the necessary therapeutic benefits. Be sure to review the plan’s coverage and incentives for generic medications to make informed decisions about your prescription drug costs.

Specialty drugs

Specialty drugs are high-cost medications used to treat complex or rare medical conditions. When considering health insurance, assess the coverage and cost-sharing for specialty drugs. Specialty medications often have unique requirements, such as prior authorization or specialty pharmacy distribution. Review the specific coverage details for these drugs, including any limitations on quantities or duration of coverage. Understanding the coverage for specialty drugs can help you plan and budget for any potential high-cost medication needs.

Plan Type

Health maintenance organization (HMO)

A Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) is a type of health insurance plan that typically requires you to choose a primary care physician (PCP) who will coordinate your healthcare. When considering an HMO plan, understand that you will generally need a referral from your PCP to see specialists. HMO plans often have lower out-of-pocket costs and offer comprehensive coverage within their provider network. If you prefer to have your care managed by a primary care physician and want more predictable costs, an HMO plan may be a good fit for you.

Preferred provider organization (PPO)

A Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) is a type of health insurance plan that allows you to see any healthcare provider within or outside of the insurance company’s network without a referral. PPO plans offer more flexibility in choosing healthcare providers but typically have higher out-of-pocket costs for out-of-network care. If you prefer the freedom to see any doctor or specialist without needing a referral, a PPO plan may be the right choice for you.

Exclusive provider organization (EPO)

An Exclusive Provider Organization (EPO) is a type of health insurance plan that combines aspects of HMO and PPO plans. With an EPO plan, you can see any healthcare provider within the plan’s network without needing a referral. However, EPO plans usually do not provide coverage for out-of-network providers, except in emergencies. If you are comfortable receiving care within a specific network and value the convenience of not needing referrals, an EPO plan may provide a balance between cost-sharing and provider choice.

Point of service (POS)

A Point of Service (POS) plan is another type of health insurance plan that allows you to choose between in-network and out-of-network care. When considering a POS plan, understand that you will need to select a primary care physician (PCP) who will serve as your main point of contact for healthcare needs. If you select an out-of-network provider, a POS plan may require you to pay higher out-of-pocket costs. If you value the flexibility of seeing out-of-network providers on occasion and prefer to have a PCP coordinate your care, a POS plan could be a suitable option.

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High deductible health plan (HDHP)

A High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP) is a plan that typically has lower monthly premiums but higher deductibles and out-of-pocket costs. HDHPs are often paired with Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), which allow you to save money tax-free to pay for eligible healthcare expenses. When considering an HDHP, make sure you can afford the high deductible before your insurance coverage begins. If you are generally healthy and don’t require frequent medical care, an HDHP can be a cost-effective option that helps you save for future healthcare expenses.

What To Look For When Buying Health Insurance For The First Time

Customer Service

24/7 helpline

Good customer service is vital when it comes to health insurance. Look for a plan that provides a 24/7 helpline where you can speak with a representative at any time for assistance or answers to your questions. Having access to a helpline can be beneficial, especially during emergencies or when you need guidance with your insurance benefits or claims.

Online portal

An online portal is a convenient tool offered by many health insurance companies. It allows you to access your plan information, coverage details, and personalized resources online. When selecting health insurance, consider whether the plan offers an online portal where you can view and manage your insurance account. An online portal can provide easy access to essential information and streamline administrative tasks such as filing claims or finding in-network providers.

Mobile app

A mobile app is another useful feature to consider when evaluating health insurance plans. Many insurance companies have developed mobile apps that allow you to access your health plan information on the go. With a mobile app, you can view your coverage details, find nearby healthcare providers, track your claims, and manage your health-related expenses from your smartphone or tablet. Consider whether the health insurance plan offers a mobile app that aligns with your preferences and lifestyle.

Claims process

Understanding the claims process is essential when purchasing health insurance. Look for a plan that has a straightforward and transparent claims process. When you receive medical services, you’ll need to submit a claim to your insurance company to request reimbursement or coverage for the services rendered. Consult the plan’s website or customer service representatives to understand the specific steps and requirements for filing claims. A simple and efficient claims process can help minimize administrative burdens and ensure timely reimbursement for covered services.

Provider directory

Having access to a comprehensive provider directory is crucial when choosing health insurance. A provider directory is a listing of doctors, hospitals, and other healthcare professionals who are part of the insurance company’s network. When evaluating health insurance plans, review the provider directory to ensure that it includes a wide range of healthcare professionals and facilities in your area. A robust provider directory can give you confidence that you will have access to quality healthcare and easily find providers who suit your specific needs.

Renewability and Portability

Renewability options

When purchasing health insurance, consider the renewability options offered by the plan. Some health insurance plans are renewable, meaning that you can continue coverage beyond the initial contract term without reapplying or going through medical underwriting. Renewable plans can provide peace of mind, knowing that you can maintain your insurance coverage as long as you pay the premiums. When evaluating health insurance options, inquire about the renewability provisions to understand the long-term viability of the plan.

Portability options

Portability refers to the transferability of insurance coverage when you change jobs or move to a different state. If you anticipate changes in your employment or residency, consider the portability options provided by health insurance plans. Some plans offer portability, allowing you to maintain coverage even if you change jobs or move to a different state. Portability can ensure continuity in your insurance coverage and provide flexibility if your circumstances change.

Changing plans

There may be instances when you need or want to change your health insurance plan outside of the annual enrollment period. When selecting health insurance, inquire about the flexibility to change plans. Some plans may allow you to switch to a different plan or tier within the same insurance company if your needs or circumstances change. Understanding the options for changing plans can provide you with peace of mind knowing that you can make adjustments as necessary.

Moving states

If you plan to move to a different state, it’s important to consider health insurance options in your new location. Health insurance regulations and options vary from state to state, so you may need to research and enroll in a new health insurance plan once you move. Some insurance companies offer plans that operate in multiple states, providing the flexibility to maintain coverage when moving. When planning a move, make sure to explore the health insurance options available in your new state and proactively secure coverage to ensure continuous access to healthcare services.

In conclusion, buying health insurance for the first time can feel overwhelming, but by considering the key factors outlined above, you can make an informed decision that meets your healthcare needs and budget. Remember to assess the coverage for medical services, prescription drugs, hospitalization, emergency care, and mental health services. Consider the network of providers, including in-network and out-of-network options, primary care physicians, specialists, and dentists. Evaluate the premium costs, deductibles, co-pays, out-of-pocket maximums, and annual limits to ensure they align with your financial situation. Take into account coverage limitations, waiting periods, and exceptions for pre-existing conditions. Explore financial assistance options such as subsidies, tax credits, Medicaid, and CHIP. Consider the benefits and services provided, including wellness programs, preventive care, maternity and newborn care, pediatric services, and rehabilitation services. Review the prescription drug coverage, examining the formulary, tiers, mail-order options, generic alternatives, and coverage for specialty drugs. Understand the different plan types, such as HMOs, PPOs, EPOs, POS plans, and HDHPs, and choose the one that best suits your preferences and needs. Assess the quality of customer service through 24/7 helplines, online portals, mobile apps, claims processes, and provider directories. Finally, consider the renewability and portability options, as well as the flexibility to change plans or coverage when needed. By thoroughly evaluating these factors, you can navigate the health insurance market with confidence and find the plan that best protects your health and financial well-being.

What To Look For When Buying Health Insurance For The First Time