One of the hardest things to navigate as a travel nurse is navigating the world of health insurance. How do you get health insurance as a travel nurse? What is the best health insurance for travel nurses? Should you take company insurance or private insurance? Travel nurse health insurance is a tricky topic, but I’m going to give you a general idea of what options you have and hope to inform you enough so that you can make the right choice for you.
Before reading further, I am in no way an expert on this subject. I’m just here to share what I’ve learned after travel nursing for five years and having different types of insurance. If you do want to speak with a licensed expert, please DM me on Instagram and I would be happy to give you the name of someone that I recommend.
Navigating Travel Nurse Health Insurance – What is the Best Choice For You?
To start simply, health insurance can be purchased either privately or through your travel nurse company. We’ll get into it later on the best choice for you, but for now… let’s dive into important terms to know in the health insurance world.
Terms/Phrases to Know
HMO – HMO stands for health maintenance organization. HMOs have their own network of providers, so if you choose this insurance you have to see a provider who is “in-network”. If you see a provider “out of network”, you’ll be required to pay out of pocket, unless it’s an emergency.
PPO – PPO stands for preferred provider organization. PPOs will cover your care if you visit a doctor that is “out of network”, but you may be paying a slightly higher rate for it.
In-Network – “In-network” simply means that the doctor/provider you’re seeing takes your insurance plan. These providers are also called “participating providers”, meaning they participate in your health insurance plan.
Out of Network – “Out of network” means that the doctor/provider that you’re seeing does not take your insurance. This is more of an issue if you have an HMO plan versus a PPO plan, and can also depend on whether or not you’re seeing an “out of network” provider in the case of an emergency.
Deductible – A deductible is the amount that you’re required to cover for your health insurance before your insurance kicks in and covers the cost. If you have a $1,000 deductible, you’re required to pay $1,000 before your insurance will begin to pay. After your insurance does kick in, you’re oftentimes only required to pay the co-pay.
Co-Pay – A co-pay is a fixed amount that you’re required to pay after you’ve paid your deductible and your insurance has kicked in.
Co-Insurance – Co-insurance is typically a percentage amount. If your co-insurance plan is 80/20, for example, then you would pay 20% of the healthcare costs and your insurance would pay 80% of the healthcare costs. Typically there’s an out-of-pocket maximum that limits the total amount the insured pays for care in a given period.
Premium – The premium is the amount that you pay for health insurance each month. This amount does not include any co-pay, co-insurance, or deductibles.
HDHP – HDHP stands for high deductible health plan. A high-deductible health plan has a higher deductible than a traditional insurance plan. Your monthly premium may be lower than usual, your deductible is higher (meaning you’ll pay more for healthcare before your insurance kicks in).
HSA – HSA stands for health savings account. A health savings account is a tax-exempt savings account that is usually paired with a high-deductible health insurance plan. Your HSA can be used to pay for certain medical expenses. The funds that are deposited – or withdrawn – are not taxed.
Open Enrollment – Open enrollment takes place every year and it’s when you’re allowed to enroll/change your health insurance. To clarify, when you first get a new job or sign up for insurance, that can be at any time during the year. However, you can’t change your health insurance (unless of a qualifying life event) at any point during the year unless it is open enrollment. This varies by state but is usually towards the end of the year (November).
Qualifying Life Events – A qualifying life event is an event that occurs that allows you the ability to change your health insurance at any point during the year, even if it isn’t open enrollment. Some examples of qualifying life events are marriage, divorce, the birth of a baby, adoption, etc.
A NOTE FROM A LICENSED HEALTH INSURANCE EXPERT…
…”In regards to high deductible, lower-premium plans, in the chance that you do need to use your insurance outside of preventative services (any injury or illness which requires you to go to the doctor), you will be subject to meeting that deductible out of pocket FIRST, before any insurance kicks in. For example, Someone is having an extended period of headaches and they don’t know why. They go to the doctor to get it checked out, making it a diagnostic visit, not a preventative visit so they will be responsible to pay the full price of any services until their deductible is hit. Then their insurance will kick in and cover a portion. So finding a happy medium between a premium rate and deductible amount is often advisable. In the case that someone is confident that nothing will really happy to them, there’s always an avenue for that too”.
Pros and Cons of Choosing Between Private or Company Insurance
Health insurance for travel nurses is a unique submarket in the healthcare insurance world. While we have jobs in healthcare, we don’t always get the best options when it comes to health coverage – for a variety of reasons. In the case of determining what coverage is best for you as a travel nurse, we’re going to focus primarily on whether you should choose company health insurance or private health insurance.
There are many pros (and cons) to choosing company health insurance. The pros are that it is generally more affordable and coverage is decent. And it’s easy to get! Once you sign up with your company you’re able to enroll in coverage that is best for you. The cons are that once you’re assignment ends – so does your insurance. And in some cases, it can take up to two weeks for your insurance to even kick in once you’ve already started working. (Although this all varies among different companies, so it’s best to ask about these things when you’re in the first stages of talking with your recruiter).
Just like choosing company health insurance, there are also pros and cons to choosing private insurance. The major pro to this is that if you’re someone who plans to take breaks between your assignments (which I highly recommend! Read this post, this post, and this post for why); then your insurance doesn’t drop. You can take unlimited time off from the bedside and not have to worry about not having health insurance. The con to choosing private health insurance is that you may not understand what exactly it is that you’re getting and your coverage could be pretty awful. Which is what happened to me! I learned that I was paying $150/month for over a year and when I went to get an annual PAP smear I wasn’t covered. I called my health insurance company and they told me that the entire time I was paying for “critical insurance” meaning I was paying for insurance that would cover me if I were to get a heart attack, stroke, etc. Something that a healthy 30-year old shouldn’t be paying for. (Remember, if you need a licensed advisor to best advise you on what health insurance is best for you please reach out to me on Instagram so that I can give you her information!).
Taking Stock of Your Health Needs
Whether or not you choose to sign up for company health insurance or private health insurance, it’s important to take stock of your health needs so that you know the best plan for you. I recommend making a list of your health needs in a one-year period. Do you need prescriptions to be filled? How many and how often? How often do you typically see a doctor? Is this a general appointment or a specialty appointment? (As a travel nurse you will be getting yearly physicals that your company should pay for). Once you have a complete list of your health needs, then you can make a more informed choice on what the best insurance plan is for you.
Overall, I think it’s most important to be informed about the decisions that you’re making for your health needs. Start by deciding how much time you plan to take off between assignments as that will largely determine whether you’re going to choose company insurance or private insurance. From there, make a list of your health needs and what you want out of your insurance. If you don’t see a doctor that often, don’t have prescriptions that need to be filled, and are generally pretty healthy then you may choose to pay less a month and have a higher deductible. Maybe you do need to see a specialty doctor throughout the year and have prescriptions that need to be filled. You’ll probably want to pick a plan with more coverage. Overall, you’re the only person who knows what is right for you and your needs.
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