To say that you need health insurance in 2017 may be the biggest understatement of the year even before the New Year has begun.
In fact, if you were stranded on a desert island and could only take one type of insurance policy with you, it should be your health insurance, to protect you and your greatest asset -- your health -- from whatever ailments life may throw at you.
In the video below, we spoke with Chelsea Fagan of The Financial Diet, who echoes the sentiments of many consumers looking for health insurance: According to Fagan, the process could have been less time consuming if so much information wasn’t needed.
"If the steps were easier, probably," she said. "Frankly, the one (insurance application) I went through was like a 15-step process. I had to enter information at the beginning of it. There were just so many chances to lose my attention in that process, and it was lost immediately, so if it were easier and more fun," finding health insurance might be a quicker, more seamless search:
Like so many New Year’s resolution fails, it’s that it’s too difficult to follow through on, that enrolling in a new policy is too involved, that part of the tediousness of buying health insurance is having so many steps to go through in the application process before you’re actually enrolled, et cetera, et cetera (even though having health insurance is mandatory and could get you penalized if you go without).
But that's mostly a myth. Some insurance plans only require visitors to enter minimal information, with a brief follow-up phone call. By giving insurance providers information about your age, address, income and more, it can help you get the right coverage at the right price. Think about it this way: if you ended up paying more than you want in health insurance premiums, and you found out that you could have been paying less if your insurer had more complete info from you, you’d feel a lot better knowing they have a better, well-rounded picture of you.
So before getting started, here’s what info and documentation you’ll need to have ready as you apply for a plan in 2017:
Proof of identity, citizenship and age
First, your health insurance premiums will be determined in part based on your age and zip code of residence, so proof of both your date of birth and current address will help providers calculate your potential rates according to the health plan you choose.
Remember that you won’t need to provide all of these documents. Most insurers will just need one that displays your date of birth and identity, plus another certifying your citizenship, or a document that proves both (like a passport):
Current driver’s license or photo ID. If you don’t have a driver’s license, an official photo ID will do for insurance carriers; if not from the Department of Motor Vehicles, an ID card from a federal, state or government agency, or a school ID card also qualifies.
Your birth certificate (U.S. or overseas) or proof of adoption records
A current passport is another way to verify your ID, U.S. citizenship and your age in one document.
Other optional documents, like marriage records, proof of military service, and official birth records from a hospital or doctor
You’ll need to provide some of the above documentation (like marriage or birth certificates, or adoption records) to prove the number of dependents in your household if you’re shopping for family coverage.
If you’re not a U.S. citizen but looking for a domestic health insurance plan, you’ll need one of these documents to show proof of identity and current immigration status:
I-551 permanent resident card (aka a Green Card)
An employment authorization card, either I-688B or I-766
Proof of current residence/home address
Health insurance companies may need proof of where you live. You can provide them with one of these options:
For homeowners, a mortgage bill or property tax statement qualifies as proof of your current address
For tenants, a rent receipt, apartment lease contract or signed letter from your landlord
A utility bill (gas, electric, cable, telephone (land or cell line) water bill, etc.)
A postmarked envelope with your return mailing address on it
Proof of current or future income
There are various documents you can provide according to the type of income you’re currently receiving or scheduled to receive. Income plays a big role in the information you need to provide when buying health insurance, mostly because it informs what types of tax breaks you may be eligible for during income tax filing season. Under the Affordable Care Act, you may be eligible for a tax credit to help you pay for insurance, so your proof of income is an invaluable part to health insurance shopping.
For wages and salary:
Any of these documents are acceptable:
A signed and dated letter from your employer on company letterhead
A federal or state income tax return
Business and/or payroll records
If you’re self employed:
You’ll need to provide an income tax return, plus a record of earnings (as documented in your 1099 form) and/or business expenses
If you’re unemployed:
Unemployment benefits award letter/monthly statements for proof of earnings
Any official correspondence from the U.S. Department of Labor
Other sources of income:
You may need to provide awards letters or payment stubs if you receive Worker’s Comp benefits, veterans benefits or military pay
A signed letter or receipt of payment for income received from rent or room/board
If you receive any income or interest payments, provide your prospective health insurer with earnings statements from your bank, credit union, agent or broker; a 1099 for miscellaneous earnings is also applicable
Your health insurance provider may also request that you provide Social Security information. If you’re receiving benefits, it counts as income, so an awards letter, statement of annual benefits, and any correspondence from the Social Security Administration will qualify as proof of income.
When tax return time comes, your health insurance provider will then file a Health Coverage 1095-B form with the IRS, an informational document prepared to stay compliant with healthcare laws.
For all of the above, you’ll need to provide proof of income and residency if you’ve incurred medical bills within the last three months.
Maximizing your health insurance buying time
Can we make the process of buying health insurance easier? Your first step should be to gather up all your information beforehand so you’ll have proof of income, residence, age and other data ready when it comes time to apply.
Second, by searching our health insurance database, you’ll be able to narrow down your options, compare plans, find the best health insurance companies and receive discounts, so when it comes time to apply, you’ll be armed and ready on all fronts.
Most important is determining the type of health insurance coverage you need, how much it may cost, and developing a health insurance budget to keep your plan affordable.