Vox published an analysis of more than 1,100 emergency room bills in December 2018 that found emergency rooms often charge a lot for items you could buy at a drugstore such as bandages and low-grade pain medication. If you’re at the doctor for something relatively minor, consider asking if you’ll be charged for these supplies, and if so, turn them down. You can always stop at the store on the way home and get them for far less money. Whatever private health insurance you have, it’s important to know your benefits well.
Still, the State Farm quotes we received were shockingly expensive when compared to the competition — typically around three times as much. While that’s likely a dealbreaker for most, it’s worth checking personalized quotes yourself, especially if you have a teen driver (for whom they seem to offer more discounts than our other picks). Another point in State Farm’s favor is its website, which is good at helping you understand which coverages best fit your specific needs. We would’ve liked a Live Chat feature, but there are plenty of contact alternatives, including a mobile app.
Progressive has a slew of available discounts — sharing the top spot for most discounts with Farmers. There’s even one for adding a newly-licensed teen driver to your existing auto policy (surprising given that teenage drivers are among the riskiest to insure). But a policy loaded with discounts isn’t necessarily cheaper than a non-discounted policy, and the Texas Department of Insurance’s data on premiums show that Progressive is, on average, the most expensive for young drivers among the top five in Texas.
If you decide to opt out instead of acquiring compliant health insurance, you do have a few options. These options probably won't qualify to relieve you of having to pay the shared responsibility payment, but they can still lower your health care costs. Many insurance companies offer short-term insurance plans that might help you between coverage periods or after losing insurance. Catastrophic insurance usually has a high deductible, but can help if you need expensive treatment. Another option is Direct Primary Care (DPC) or "concierge medicine." These are not standard insurance models but involve a direct payment to the provider as an annual fee or retainer for services. This type of arrangement is not common, but it's an option for some. Boutique offices are becoming increasingly popular as well. These medical practices do not bother with insurance and simply make cash-price arrangements with patients. Many offer quite competitive rates for routine services. However, keep in mind that this alternative option does not satisfy the requirement to have minimal compliant health insurance and that you may need to pay the fine unless you are somehow otherwise exempt.