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Catastrophic health plans are sold through the Health Insurance Marketplace or your state’s exchange. A few companies offer them if you’re under 30 or if you have a qualifying exemption that makes a Marketplace or job-based health plan unaffordable. Catastrophic plans aren’t a replacement for regular medical insurance. They have low premiums but high deductibles, so you pay for most routine medical expenses out-of-pocket.
But before you purchase a catastrophic plan, see if you qualify for the premium tax credit—it can help you get a low-cost or free Marketplace plan with better benefits.
Best Overall : Blue Cross Blue Shield
Member discounts through the Blue365 program
Extensive provider network
BlueCard Program for nationwide care
High average NCQA rating
Catastrophic plans aren’t available nationwide
Premiums relatively high in some states
Like all catastrophic plans, BCBS catastrophic plans cover 100% of most medical services, including doctor’s visits, prescriptions, and hospitalizations, once the deductible is met. Unlike all other providers, though, BCBS has an extensive nationwide provider network with more than 1.7 million doctors and hospitals providing nationwide coverage. If you need medical care while traveling domestically or internationally, you can use your BlueCard to submit claims outside of your local BCBS coverage area.
The company also has good third-party ratings. In the J.D. Power 2022 U.S. Commercial Health Plan Study, BCBS was rated the top health insurance company for overall customer satisfaction in 12 of 22 regions. Its average NCQA rating is 3.73 out of 5, which is the second-highest score of the companies we reviewed.
Another perk of BCBS is its Blue365 program, which gives you access to discounts on things like healthy food, fitness classes, medical devices, personal care items, and travel. Because BCBS plans are sold and administered by 34 independent and local organizations, the plan options and plan costs will vary based on your location.
Best for Health Management Programs : Oscar
Offers a wide range of health management programs
$0 virtual urgent and primary care
Mobile app that rewards you for healthy habits
Low NCQA rating
Oscar offers health management programs for a variety of different conditions, including asthma, heart disease, depression, diabetes, pregnancy, weight loss, high blood pressure and cholesterol, pain management, and low back pain. It also offers low premiums on catastrophic plans, but offers the most affordable health insurance coverage for other metal level plans.
Oscar’s catastrophic plan members also get access to a variety of customer perks, like $0 virtual primary care and urgent care through Oscar Care, plus a dedicated team to answer your medical questions. You can also use the Oscar Health app to refill prescriptions, message your care team, and make appointments. You can even earn up to $75 per year for tracking your steps on the app.
However, Oscar’s average NCQA rating is 2.75 out of 5, which is the lowest of the providers we reviewed.
Best for Customer Satisfaction : Kaiser Permanente
Excellent customer satisfaction rating from J.D. Power
Highest NCQA plan rating
Some plans include vision coverage for kids
24/7 telehealth and care advice line
Only available in nine states
No adult dental benefits
Kaiser Permanente has the best customer satisfaction out of the insurers we reviewed. In J.D. Power’s U.S. Commercial Member Health Plan Study, Kaiser Permanente is rated as the top provider for customer satisfaction in five regions. It also has the highest NCQA rating, with an average score of 4.28 out of 5. And the company’s plans get perfect 5-star ratings from healthcare.gov.
Kaiser Permanente members have access to 24/7 virtual care and a 24/7 advice line with medical professionals. Some catastrophic health plans also include coverage for children’s vision exams and glasses at no charge.
You might be able to find some catastrophic health plans that include children’s dental insurance, but Kaiser Permanente doesn't offer adult dental coverage on any of its health insurance plans.
Blue Cross Blue Shield stands out for its large provider network, excellent ratings, and member perks. Plus, BCBS makes it easy for members to get covered medical care anywhere in the U.S. or abroad through the BlueCard program. These are a few reasons it’s also our top pick for best health insurance company overall. But if you’re looking for the cheapest catastrophic health plan, Bright Health is a better option, especially if you want dental coverage.
Oscar also offers affordable coverage plus makes an array of medical management programs available with its catastrophic plans. But if you want the best customer service, choose Kaiser Permanente (if it’s available in your area).
Frequently Asked Questions
How Much Is Health Insurance?
The cost of health insurance depends on many factors, including your age, plan category (catastrophic, bronze, silver, gold, platinum), tobacco use, and whether you qualify for the Advance Premium Tax Credit, which can reduce monthly premiums to $0.
For example, a single 25-year-old in Miami, Florida might pay $198.81 for a catastrophic plan from Bright Health or $262.29 for a Bronze plan. However, if that person qualifies for the tax credit, they may pay as little as $0 for the Bronze plan, but the same price for the catastrophic plan. Catastrophic coverage does not qualify for premium tax credits.
What Is a Health Insurance Copayment?
A health insurance copay is a fixed amount of money you pay for covered medical services. For example, if your health plan has a $30 copay for primary care visits, that is the amount you pay when you visit your primary care provider. Plans with a lower monthly premium usually have higher copays and vice versa.
What Is a Health Insurance Deductible?
Your health insurance deductible is the amount of money you pay for qualifying medical care before your insurance company will start to pay its portion. Insurance deductibles only apply to certain expenses, like hospitalizations and outpatient surgery. At the end of the year, your deductible resets.
Many insurance plans provide coverage for certain services before your deductible is met. For instance, preventive care, vaccines, and diagnostic screenings are often covered by your insurance plan before you've met your deductible.
What Is Catastrophic Health Insurance?
Catastrophic health insurance is a low-cost health insurance plan with a high deductible. Catastrophic plans cover three primary care visits before you've met your deductible and preventive care is covered at no cost. To get catastrophic coverage, you must be under the age of 30 or have a hardship exemption or affordability exemption that makes a Marketplace or job-based insurance plan difficult to get.
To determine the best catastrophic health insurance companies for 2023, we considered criteria in the following categories.
- Customer satisfaction: We used NCQA ratings, primarily, and healthcare.gov ratings, secondarily, to measure this criteria.
- State availability: This measure indicates how widely available plans are across the U.S.
- Plan features: For each company, we collected and analyzed whether it offered the following:
- Types of plans: HMO, PPO, EPO, POS, and other plan types
- Plan benefits: Programs to help manage asthma, heart disease, depression, diabetes, pain, high cholesterol and blood pressure, pregnancy, low back pain, and weight loss, plus other benefits like vision coverage
- Dental coverage: Coverage for child dental, adult dental, both, or neither
- Catastrophic coverage: Coverage defined as "minimum coverage" by some providers or "catastrophic" by others.
- Discounts and incentives: We considered whether companies offer discounts and/or incentives to plan members.
- Cost: We considered premiums and deductibles for catastrophic plans across two ZIP codes, representing the highest enrollment in ACA plans by state.