Best health insurance companies of March 2024

Kaiser Permanente is the best health insurance company in 2024, according to our analysis. We evaluated health insurance companies based on cost, coverage options, NCQA quality rating and consumer complaints. Use this rating as a starting point to compare providers and find the best health insurance for your situation.

Best health insurance companies of 2024

  • Kaiser Permanente: Best health insurance.
  • Aetna: Best health insurance for young adults.
  • Blue Cross Blue Shield: Best health insurance for the self-employed.
  • UnitedHealthcare: Best health insurance provider network.

Why trust our health insurance experts

 

Best health insurance company

 

Kaiser Permanente

 

Best health insurance for young adults

 

Aetna

 

Best health insurance for the self employed

 

Blue Cross Blue Shield

 

Best health insurance provider network

 

UnitedHealthcare

Compare the best health insurance companies of 2024

What is health insurance?

Health insurance is a contract between a health insurance company and the policyholder. The insurance company agrees to pay for covered medical expenses in exchange for the policyholder’s premium payments.

“Health insurance is designed to help individuals manage costs associated with medical care,” said Ryan Bullock, chief operating officer of Aeroflow Healthcare, a durable medical equipment provider.

You’re more likely to use a service when you pay for it. If you’re uninsured, you may decide not to go to the doctor, even if you have a health concern, due to the high out-of-pocket costs. Health insurance “serves as a safeguard against the high costs of medical treatments, consultations, prescriptions, and hospital stays,” said Tarek El Ali, founder of Smart Insurance Agents health insurance agency.

What does health insurance cover?

All Health Insurance Marketplace, or Marketplace, health insurance plans that are compliant with the the Affordable Care Act (ACA) must cover these 10 essential benefits:

  • Ambulatory patient services for outpatient care.
  • Chronic disease management, preventive and wellness services.
  • Emergency services.
  • Hospitalization, including surgery and overnight stays.
  • Laboratory services.
  • Mental health, behavioral health and substance use disorder services.
  • Pediatric services, including dental and vision care.
  • Pregnancy, maternity and newborn care, including birth control and breastfeeding coverage.
  • Prescription drugs.
  • Rehabilitative and habilitative devices and services.

Specific services within these categories can vary depending on your state’s requirements. Plans can also provide adult dental or vision coverage and medical management programs, such as those that assist plan members with back pain, diabetes and weight management.

Plan benefits can also vary by insurance company. It’s important to read the fine print to determine what each health insurance plan covers and excludes.

Does health insurance cover dental?

If you’re getting health coverage for someone 18 or younger, dental coverage is an essential benefit under ACA-compliant health insurance plans. That means it must be available as part of a health plan or as a separate dental plan. Adult dental care is not an essential benefit, however, so your health insurance may not cover dental, depending on your plan.

Some plans include dental, meaning the premium covers both health care and dental. But if your plan doesn’t cover dental, you might be able to buy dental insurance separately through the Marketplace. If you do, you’ll have a premium for your health insurance plan and another for your dental plan.

You can choose between two categories of dental insurance through the Marketplace: low and high.

  • A low coverage plan will have high copays and deductibles but cheaper premiums.
  • A high coverage plan will have lower copays and deductibles but more expensive premiums.

Stay informed: The best dental insurance companies

What does health insurance not cover?

Although health insurance plans can vary, according to Shashank Agarwal, senior decision scientist for CVS Health, health insurance may not cover:

  • Alternative therapies, such as acupuncture and chiropractic care.
  • Cosmetic or elective procedures.
  • Dental or vision care, if not part of your health plan.
  • Experimental treatments.
  • Medical care outside of the U.S.
  • Non-essential medications or drugs that aren’t FDA-approved.
  • Out-of-network care.

Your health plan might also exclude coverage for fertility treatments, brand-new technologies or off-label drug use. “There may also be limitations or exclusions relating to pre-existing conditions, dental care, vision care and long-term care,” said Bullock.

While most health insurance plans cover rehabilitative care, they might not cover developmental services, warns Adam Rosenfeld, president of Rubicon Benefits, a division of World Insurance. Although your physical therapy following knee surgery would be covered, speech therapy for your child born with developmental delays may not, he explains.

Just like plan benefits can vary by coverage level and insurance company, so can policy exclusions. Comparing plan benefit details, especially what’s excluded from coverage, can help you determine which plan is best for your health care needs.

How much does health insurance cost in 2024?

The tables below show examples of health insurance costs for Bronze, Silver and Gold plans from the best health insurance companies in our analysis.

Bronze plans: Health insurance monthly cost examples

Silver plans: Health insurance monthly cost examples

Gold plans: Health insurance monthly cost examples

On a tight budget? How to save money on health insurance

Types of health insurance

There are several types of health insurance plans in the Marketplace, many of which may be offered in your area at each metal tier (Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum).

  • Health maintenance organization (HMO): An HMO is one of the more affordable health insurance plan types, but your coverage is limited to in-network providers unless it’s an emergency. You’ll need to select a primary care doctor who can give you referrals to specialists. You may be required to live or work in a certain proximity to the HMO’s service network to get covered.
  • Exclusive provider organization (EPO): Like an HMO, an EPO plan only covers in-network care, except in an emergency, but you typically don’t need a referral to see an in-network specialist. EPOs tend to have a larger network than HMOs, but you’ll likely pay higher premiums than with an HMO. EPOs are not as commonly offered.
  • Point of service (POS): POS plans offer in-network care, but the provider network is limited. You can get out-of-network care, but you’ll pay more. You’ll need to get specialist referrals from your primary care doctor.
  • Preferred provider organization (PPO): PPO plans offer in-network care. You can use out-of-network providers, but you’ll pay more. You don’t need referrals and you don’t need to select a primary care doctor.

How to find the best health insurance for your needs

There are several steps you can take to find the best medical insurance for your needs:

  • Assess your health care needs, such as “the frequency of doctor visits, medications, and any specific medical conditions you or your family members have,” said El Ali.
  • Evaluate available plans in your area. EPOs, HMOs, PPOs work differently. An HMO may be cheaper, but you’ll have more coverage restrictions. A PPO comes at a higher cost, but you can go out of network for care. Understanding the different plan types and the pros and cons of each can help you find what suits you best.
  • Compare health insurance plans. Each plan can have varying benefits, deductibles, copayments, out-of-pocket costs and premiums. Pay close attention to what a plan doesn’t cover to ensure it will meet your needs. Marketplace plans provide a summary of benefits and coverage (SBC) to make comparing plans easier.
  • Verify network coverage. “If you have preferred doctors or health care facilities, make sure they are in the network of the plan you’re considering,” said Agarwal. Otherwise, you could face expensive out-of-network costs or have to choose a new doctor.
  • Check for prescription coverage. If you take prescription medications, make sure the plan covers them and what your out-of-pocket cost would be. You might have to call the insurance company to determine costs.
  • Look for extra benefits, like telehealth services, a 24/7 nurse line or discounts on wellness programs.
  • Check for financial assistance eligibility. You might be eligible for financial assistance or premium subsidies if you purchase health insurance through the Marketplace.
  • Ask for reviews and recommendations. Have a discussion with coworkers, friends and family members to learn about their insurance company and plan experiences.

How to get health insurance

If you don’t have health insurance coverage through an employer, Medicare, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) or another source, you can compare options available in your state on the Health Insurance Marketplace.

Open enrollment for health insurance is from Nov. 1 to Jan. 15. Outside of this period, you may be able to enroll if you have a life change, income that qualifies for a Special Enrollment Period or if you qualify for Medicaid or CHIP.

You can apply for health insurance coverage a number of ways, including online, by phone, through an agent or broker or with a paper application.

Best health insurance FAQs

The Health Insurance Marketplace’s open enrollment period runs from Nov. 1 through Jan. 15 each year. You can enroll in a new plan or change your current one during open enrollment.

If you enroll by Dec. 15, your health insurance coverage begins on Jan. 1, when your first health insurance premium payment is due. If you don’t need your health insurance coverage to start until Feb. 1, you can enroll until Jan. 15.

There are multiple reasons why health insurance is so expensive, said Shashank Agarwal, senior decision scientist for CVS Health. Administrative and medical care costs, prescription drug prices, lifestyle factors, an aging population, mandates and regulations, risk pool dynamics and complex billing and pricing impact how much each person pays for health insurance.

“Drugs used to account for less than 10% of overall health care plan costs, and now it’s over 25%,” said Adam Rosenfeld, president of Rubicon Benefits, a division of World Insurance. A lack of tort reform laws and the ability to revise, renew and extend patents to keep drug prices up also factor into higher health insurance costs.

Find a plan that suits your budgetBest cheap health insurance

There are no federal laws that require health insurance, but California, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Vermont and Washington, D.C. require residents to declare proof of health insurance coverage on state taxes.

Even if you don’t live in a state that requires proof of medical insurance coverage, most Americans should consider health insurance if they can’t afford to pay for health care out of pocket. Having health insurance can help you pay for preventative care, which can keep you happier and healthier longer.

Comparing the cost of health insurance plans and your out-of-pocket expenses to paying for care on your own can help determine if you need health insurance.

The best health insurance company is Kaiser Permanente, which gets 5 stars in our rating. Aetna is also a top-scoring health insurance company in our analysis, based on cost, coverage options, NCQA quality rating and consumer complaints.

There is no federal law that you have to have health insurance, but a handful of states require it.

California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington, D.C. require residents to have health insurance and will apply a state tax penalty if you don’t (except for Vermont, which does not apply a penalty).

Aetna, Blue Cross Blue Shield and UnitedHealthcare have extensive networks, making it easier to get in-network health care anywhere in the country.

Editor’s Note: This article contains updated information from previously published stories:

  • Early retirement: How to afford health insurance?
  • Health insurance: 1.1 million more Americans lost coverage in 2018
  • Health insurance: Fewer workers go part-time as ACA coverage worsens
  • 5 ways to cut health care costs in retirement
  • Open enrollment at work: Get ready to get choosy
  • 5 reasons health insurance didn’t pay your bill
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