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Affordable Care Act

You can save a lot of money on health insurance, but should you?


(CNBC) – Not everyone is a fan of Obamacare.

Complaints range from expensive premiums and high deductibles to covered services people don’t think they need.

But compare the typical health insurance plan regulated by the Affordable Care Act with a cheaper short-term health plan, and you might just change your mind.

Short-term health insurance is a stripped-down health care plan that doesn’t fall under ACA regulations. These plans don’t have to cover specific services, such as prescription medication or maternity benefits, and they are of limited duration: just three months.

Heather Kofke-Egger knows first-hand the risks of depending on a plan with skimpy benefits.

Just out of college in 2002, she could pay $450 a month for a health plan offered to new graduates, or $85 a month for a short-term plan. “I knew I was taking a risk,” she said. “Plans didn’t cover pre-existing conditions, but without a job lined up, I had no way to pay the [higher] premiums.”

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Kofke-Egger, now a health-care data professional in Chicago, bought the cheaper plan, thinking her youth and relatively good health would protect her from unexpected expenses.

Diagnosed with depression in college, Kofke-Egger was doing well upon graduation. She filled a 90-day supply of antidepressants before leaving school and hoped to have a job with health insurance by the time she needed a refill.

“But I wasn’t able to find a job quickly, and the transition from college and stress of being unable to find a job really flared up my depression,” she said. She took a low-level temp job, and her situation grew worse. A primary care doctor put her on another medication.

Without a prescription drug benefit, Kofke-Egger was paying more than $600 a month for medication and therapy. “About half my gross pay went to medical care,” she said. “I was struggling to get myself to work each day.”

Short-duration plans give you a feeling of safety, Kofke-Egger said, but not a full understanding of the lack of protections. “You have to read the fine print really carefully,” she said. Young people may be especially vulnerable.

Kofke-Egger credits a program in Maine with allowing her to qualify for Medicaid and get complete treatment for the first time in six months. “It literally changed the trajectory of my life and career,” she said, and helped her to gradually get better.

“No one expects to have a major mental health episode,” Kofke-Egger said. “The coverage I bought for emergencies was useless when I needed it the most.”

In August, the White House announced that short-term health plans would now be available with renewals for up to three years.

The Republican Party wasn’t able to get the Affordable Care Act repealed, and “Trump is thinking [it’s] another step to undermine Obamacare,” said Jason Hargraves, managing editor of InsuranceQuotes, an insurance plan comparison website. “They can do little things to tinker with the mechanics and hope [the ACA] fails.”

According to the president, hundreds of thousands more people will be able to afford health care. “It might be true, but it won’t cover very much,” Hargraves said.

The administration is not adhering to the rules, Hargraves said. In response, several lawsuits have been filed to fight the extension of the plans.

The price consumers pay for the premium is a key determinant for choosing a plan, said Sara Collins, vice president of the health-care coverage and access program at the Commonwealth Fund, which studies health-care issues. Short-term health insurance definitely has lower premiums.

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