If you are dreaming of hitting the road before retirement, the idea of leaving your job and purchasing your own health insurance can seem like a nightmare. Recently I received a letter from James Clark, a 60-year old aspiring full-time RVer, who wrote:
My wife and I just turned 60, and while I enjoy what I’m doing, I know we aren’t getting any younger. We have had the dream to full-time for some time now but have not made the plunge because of health insurance issues… could you address this and how others have bridged this gap?”
James is correct; many aspiring full-timers let health insurance bureaucracy stop them from full-timing before Medicare kicks in—and who can blame them? If you need coverage, you’ll have to find it on your own, but buying an individual health insurance policy is an intimidating activity, especially now that the Affordable Health Care Act will create industrywide changes in 2014.
To learn more about how full-timers with their own health insurance policies will be affected by these changes, I spoke with a representative from Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Texas. Unfortunately, the rep had little information to share, even though she has more than a decade of experience with the company. She simply shook her head and said, “Even we don’t completely understand how Obamacare will affect everyone.” The one certainty is that after 2014 you can’t be denied coverage because of previous health issues.
Since most people would rather poke needles in their eyes than pore over health insurance options in this confusing climate, I’ll attempt to address this full-timing hurdle with a few steps you can take to get started. Keep in mind I’m not an insurance expert, but as a self-employed individual since 1998 and a full-time RVer since 2007, I have some experience with this topic that will hopefully make your own health care insurance investigation a little less daunting.
Step 1: Choose Group or Individual Coverage
If you have health issues, don’t let pre-existing conditions scare you away from trying to obtain coverage. Many times a company will insure “at-risk” individuals by putting an exclusion against paying for certain types of treatments.
Currently, your choices are to buy health insurance in one of two ways: through a group that offers coverage to members, such as a trade association, or by buying your own as an individual policyholder. While many group health plans are more affordable than individual policies, that’s not always the case. The best way to determine affordability is to first pick a state to call “home.”
Step 2: Choose Your Domicile
As a full-timer, one of the biggest benefits you’ll enjoy is the ability to pick a state to call home, even if you’ll only visit there occasionally. Since everyone needs a “real” address to declare when attending to matters like vehicle and voter registration, it makes sense to choose a home state (also known as a “domicile”) with the biggest fiscal benefits for your situation. Since each state regulates its own health insurance industry, premiums vary by location.
Before you pick your domicile, investigate potential health insurance premiums. First, choose some zip codes from cities and states that you might choose as your domicile. Next, use those zip codes to get a free policy quote at e-health insurance.com, an unbiased website offering preliminary, non-binding quotes from America’s most reputable health insurance companies.
Step 3: Find an Agent
It’s relatively easy to buy your own policy, but fully understanding the exact conditions of coverage requires expertise. Through the years I’ve found that the task is best left up to insurance agents who can explain policy details. When I recently signed up with a new health insurance company, I didn’t take this advice, and later found out that my policy only covers up to $1,500 in ambulance rides.
An experienced agent can also act as a liaison between you and the insurance company during the application process and later if claim complications occur. We found our agent through Escapees RV Club (escapees.com), but independent agents can also be found in phone books.
Step 4: Ask Good Questions
Health insurance is not a one-size-fits-all concept. Some plans look like insurance policies, but are merely agreements that reimburse you up to a given amount for certain medical expenses. Many policies won’t cover you if you are outside of your official domicile, while some will provide benefits for any provider you choose as long as it’s within the insurance provider’s network of cross-country health care providers.
To choose the best policy for you, AARP recommends asking questions such as:
• How much of my doctor and hospital bills will this plan pay for?
• How much will I have to pay for a hospital stay before the plan begins to pay?
• How much will I have to pay for office visits to the doctor?
• Does the plan pay for preventive health care, such as routine checkups?
• If there is a deductible, does it start over each year (preferable), or for each new illness?
Since many plans have a deductible to meet before benefits begin, you’ll also want to know the amount of the deductible, as well as what type of care and medication costs are applied toward the deductible.
Invest in Your Health
Each year, health plans get more complicated and costly. When it comes down to it, paying for individual coverage is horrifically expensive, but if you can look at it as an investment in your health, some of the sting goes away.
Don’t let health insurance be the one factor that stops you from pursuing the full-time RVing lifestyle. Do yourself a favor and at least investigate to see if you can find coverage within your means. More information about purchasing your own health care coverage can be obtained from the following sources:
• Healthinsurance.org is a website offering consumer information.
• AARP, the advocacy organization for older Americans, offers health insurance advice at aarp.org/health/medicare-insurance/info-2006/individual_insurance.html.
• The National Association of Health Underwriters offers a Consumer Guide to Individual Health Insurance at nahu.org/consumer/individualinsurance.cfm
Do you have a question about full-timing? Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rene Agredano is a full-time RVer and location independent entrepreneur specializing in writing, marketing and advocacy. Her road trip experiences and suggestions for debt-free living are chronicled in her blog at LiveWorkDream.com.