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It’s easy to focus on the premium when considering how affordable a health insurance plan is. But if you expect to use that plan—as in go to a doctor for anything other than preventive care, fill prescriptions, or visit urgent care—you’ll want to pay attention to the plan’s deductible and copays as well. That’s what we did. We also considered plan benefits, ratings, availability, and discounts to determine the most affordable health insurance companies based on your total out-of-pocket expenses.
Best for Premium Tax Credits : Aetna
Lowest-cost plans with premium tax credit
$0 same-day CVS MinuteClinic visits
Low physician and generic drug copays on Bronze plans
New low-premium bronze plans for 2023
High deductibles on low-cost plans
If you’re eligible for the advance premium tax credit, how much you pay for health insurance can drop dramatically. If you choose an Aetna plan, it could potentially drop to $0. While all marketplace plans are eligible to be reduced by premium tax credits, some include benefits that aren’t eligible for premium tax credit dollars. Because Aetna plans only include essential health benefits, 100% of the premium can be reduced by the tax credit.
Aetna plans also offer an excellent alternative to urgent care for minor illnesses and injuries via CVS MinuteClinics. Aetna members can walk in or schedule free MinuteClinics appointments, often the same day they need care. Just note that if you have a high-deductible plan, you must meet your deductible before MinuteClinic visits are free.
We generally found Aetna’s premiums to be low, but its deductibles high. That can be fine if you don’t expect to use your plan for more than preventive care or if you have an HSA (health savings account) to cover non-preventive care before your deductible is met. We also found that value can vary significantly between markets. For example, Aetna has the cheapest 2023 bronze plan in El Paso County, Texas, at $286.40 per month ($7,500 deductible) for a 35-year-old nonsmoker. In Miami-Dade County, Florida, the same bronze plan is the seventh least expensive at $366.09 per month. What’s nice about that plan (in either location) is that you can get generic prescription drugs for $25 and see a primary care physician for a $50 copay before the deductible is met.
Best Value Plans : Oscar
Low cost plans across metal levels
$0 virtual urgent care
Paid to meet step goals
Wide range of health management programs
Relatively low NCQA and CMS ratings
Only available in 21 states
Oscar is a startup that uses technology to differentiate it from traditional insurance providers. It also packs a lot of value into its health insurance plans for the price. We found that Oscar’s plans are the best priced, on average, for applicants between age 25 and 60, regardless of metal level. We also found that it offers the lowest-cost bronze and silver plans compared to other top providers. Further, healthcare.gov lists Oscar’s plans as some of the best for low and medium use.
With its highly rated app, you can get $0 virtual urgent care at any time of the day or night and get paid to meet your daily step goals, or check out your plan’s benefits and review your individualized team of healthcare professionals. Plus, the company offers a wide range of health management programs, including ones for diabetes, depression, heart disease, pain management, weight loss, and pregnancy. Pricing will depend on your location, age, and whether you smoke. But we found Oscar’s premiums to run from the low $300s to the low $400s for its bronze plans in Texas and Florida.
Best for Customer Satisfaction : Kaiser Permanente
5-star healthcare.gov star ratings
4.3 average NCQA star rating
Excellent customer satisfaction
Deductibles can be high
Available in eight states and the District of Columbia
Kaiser offers very low premiums for its plans if you are lucky enough to live in a state that it covers. However, Kaiser’s low-premium plans can translate into a higher deductible, relative to the competition. But if you don’t expect to use your plan much, one of Kaiser Permanente’s bronze plans can be an excellent choice.
There are other reasons to go with Kaiser, apart from cost. For starters, Kaiser came in first across five regions in the 2022 J.D. Power U.S. Commercial Health Plan Study. Its plans also earn the highest ratings of all providers we reviewed, 5 stars from healthcare.gov and an average 4.3 stars from the NCQA.
The main drawback is that Kaiser is only available in California, Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Oregon, Virginia, Washington, and the District of Columbia. And if you prefer a PPO, you’re out of luck with Kaiser.
Cheapest Bronze Plans : Molina Healthcare
Low overall cost bronze plans
Bronze, silver, and gold plans available
2-star Healthcare.gov rating
PPOs are unavailable
Molina plans don’t necessarily have the lowest premiums, but they generally have lower deductibles than the competition. We found this to be the case for Molina’s bronze plans. For example, in Miami-Dade County, Florida, Molina offers a bronze plan with a $3,000 deductible, while most competitor plans have deductibles of $7,500 to $9,100. This makes Molina plans an option for those who expect to use their plan for more than preventive care, but still need a relatively low premium.
Unfortunately, Molina doesn’t do as well in other regards. Healthcare.gov gives its plans two stars out of five. And you’re limited to using in-network providers since Molina plans are generally HMOs.
Aetna offers the biggest bang for your buck, especially if you qualify for the premium tax credit. Plus, it’s introduced some very low-premium plans in some markets, such as Texas, for 2023. In general, Oscar offers some of the best value plans regardless of your age or the metal level you choose, but plan ratings aren’t particularly high. Molina offers bronze plans built for moderate use with low deductibles and copays that don’t require that you pay the deductible first.
But Kaiser Permanente may suit you better if you prefer an excellent member experience and live in an area it serves. Keep in mind that none of these companies covers the entire country, so check whether your state is covered to narrow down your options first.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Much Is Health Insurance?
Bronze plans on the Health Insurance Marketplace are the most affordable health insurance plans available (aside from catastrophic coverage). We found premiums to run generally from just under $300 per month to well over $400 for a 35-year-old, based on our review of nationwide carriers. Silver plans tended to cost about $100 more per month. But your price will vary depending on your location, age, plan choice, and whether you smoke.
The total cost of health insurance is made up of your premium, the deductible, copays for doctor visits and prescription drugs, and coinsurance, once the deductible is met. Health insurance plans also define an out-of-pocket maximum, which is the maximum amount you’re liable to pay before your insurance company pays for 100% of your care.
What Is the Premium Tax Credit?
The advance premium tax credit was created by the Affordable Care Act (ACA, also known as Obamacare). It can reduce the amount that you pay for marketplace health insurance plans. In order to be eligible for the premium tax credit, your modified adjusted gross income (AGI) should be between 100% and 400% of the federal poverty level (FPL). However, the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) temporarily eliminated the upper limit until 2025. Until then, those earning more than 400% of the FPL are not required to spend more than 8.5% of their income to buy a benchmark plan (the second lowest-cost silver plan).
What Is a Deductible in Health Insurance?
A deductible is the amount that you must pay each year before your insurance begins to cover your costs. If your health insurance plan has a deductible of $2,000, for example, you’ll generally have to pay for the first $2,000 of covered services yourself.
But it can be a little more complicated because many plans cover preventive services before you’ve met your deductible. Some might also have different deductibles for health care and prescription drugs, and/or copays for doctor visits before the deductible is met.
What Is a High-Deductible Health Plan?
A high-deductible health plan (HDHP) is a health insurance plan that charges relatively low monthly premiums in exchange for a “high” deductible. For 2023, the IRS defines an HDHP as one with a deductible of at least $1,500 for individuals and $3,000 for families. The maximum deductible for 2023 Marketplace plans is $9,100 for bronze plans.
An HDHP is required to have an HSA (Health Savings Account), which lets you (and your employer) contribute money on a pre-tax basis to a brokerage or savings account to be used tax-free for qualified healthcare expenses.
We compared the largest nationwide providers and considered criteria in the following categories to determine the most affordable health insurance companies of 2023.
- Cost to value: We compared physician copays, specialist copays, monthly premiums, and deductibles for bronze, silver, gold, and platinum plans across different age groups across two ZIP codes, representing the highest enrollment in ACA plans by state.
- Premium tax credit reduction: We researched and compared the percentage of plan premiums eligible for reduction by the premium tax credit.
- 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 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
- Dental coverage: Coverage for child dental, adult dental, both, or neither
- Metal levels: Bronze, silver, gold, and platinum plans, and catastrophic coverage
- Discounts and perks: Extra benefits, such as discounts on health gear and rewards for meeting daily step goals, were taken into account if offered.