With the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), self-employed individuals have more options than ever to obtain health care coverage. Under the ACA, self-employed individuals have the same options available to them as any individual or family. They can shop for health insurance on the federal- or state-run exchanges or they can shop in the individual marketplace, because they are not considered an employer. Generally, the best selection of options and the best pricing for plans can be found among the top health insurance providers.

Shopping and Comparing Health Insurance Plans

Under the ACA, shopping for health insurance has become more complicated because plan coverage and premium costs seem to change frequently among health care providers. The best provider of low-cost plans this year may be second or third best next year. For comparison purposes, it is best to start with the providers that consistently rate among the best each year. In addition to comparing premium, deductibles and out-of-pocket costs for plans, it is important to look at the range of plan options offered and the availability of local in-network medical providers available. Paying a lower premium while having limited plan options or in-network providers can end up costing more in out-of-pocket expenses or inconvenience. The following health insurance companies are ranked among the best for premium affordability and coverage availability.

Blue Cross Blue Shield

Blue Cross Blue Shield Association is a federation of 37 health insurance organizations that offer coverage in most states. Although its premium range is considered average in comparison to other companies, it offers the widest range of plan options of any health insurer. With more plan options, it is easier to find a plan that fits both a person’s budget and particular needs. Coverage availability and premium range varies from state to state. Depending on the state and the particular Blue Cross Blue Shield organization, policyholders may receive member discounts for health and wellness programs, health clubs, diet programs and fitness monitors, among other products and services.

Humana

In the 22 states that Humana Inc. (NYSE: HUM) operates, it ranks up there with Blue Cross Blue Shield in its availability of plan options, and its average premium range is among the lowest of the top carriers. Humana operates mostly in the western, southern and midwestern states. In addition to offering discounts on health products and services, Humana also has physical locations where members can attend cooking and exercise classes.

Kaiser Permanente

Kaiser Permanente is considered one of the best-managed care organizations in the country. Kaiser operates the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan as well as a consortium of medical groups and hospitals. Its doctors are paid salary, which has helped to keep medical costs low. The average premium range is among the lowest of all insurers, especially in the higher age groups. Availability of plan options is above average, with the most options available at age 35 years and younger. The downside is that Kaiser only operates in eight states.

Aetna

Aetna Inc. (NYSE: AET) is a managed health care organization available in most states. While it offers the lowest average range of premiums, its coverage options are only average when compared to Blue Cross Blue Shield and Humana. The selection of plan options is better at the younger ages — 35 years and younger. Coverage options for people 55 and over are very limited.

UnitedHealth Group

UnitedHealth Group Inc. (NYSE: UNH) is the largest health insurance provider in the United States, but it is also one of the more expensive in terms of its average premium range. Plan selection is only average. UnitedHealth Group’s major strength is the quality of its website, which is very easy to navigate for comparing plans and managing plan accounts.