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A Famed Gymnast Is Crowdfunding to Pay Her Medical Bills. Here’s How to Secure Affordable Health Insurance and Avoid That Fate

In the 1980s, Mary Lou Retton was a household name. The star gymnast was a member of the U.S. Olympic team, and in 1984, she took home a gold medal for her performance in the all-around competition.

You’d think someone in that position wouldn’t have to worry about covering their bills in the event of a hospital stay. But Retton is 1 of 25.3 million Americans who unfortunately don’t have health insurance. As such, she faces a host of financial upheaval as she fights pneumonia in a Texas hospital.

Retton’s daughter has started a Spotfund account (a platform similar to GoFundMe) to raise money for her mother’s medical expenses. And while the campaign has raised over $400,000, it’s no doubt Retton’s fame that’s led to such generous contributions on the part of participants.

The sad reality, though, is that most medical campaigns don’t come close to meeting their goals, forcing uninsured or underinsured Americans to resort to credit card debt to cover their healthcare bills. While about 33% of GoFundMe campaigns are set up to raise money for medical bills, only 12% actually end up meeting their goals.

If you’re someone who doesn’t have health insurance, you unfortunately cannot rely on the kindness of strangers to help cover your costs when a medical emergency arises. So it’s important to do what you can to put coverage in place.

How to buy health insurance

Many people can secure health coverage through a job. But if that’s not a benefit offered by your employer, then you may need to look for a marketplace plan through Healthcare.gov.

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You can sign up for coverage during annual open enrollment, which runs from Nov. 1 through Jan. 15 every year. However, if you experience a qualifying event like losing your job (and the insurance plan that came with it), you can sign up without having to wait for open enrollment.

Now, one thing you should know is that insurance plans on the site are grouped into four tiers: bronze, silver, gold, and platinum. The higher the tier, the higher the premiums. But a higher-tier plan can also mean less out-of-pocket spending when you need to use your insurance.

If money is tight and you’re not sure you can even afford insurance in the first place, you may want to stick with a bronze plan, which will result in a lower monthly premium than silver, gold, or platinum. A bronze plan can be a good choice if you’re someone who’s generally healthy but needs coverage in the event of a medical emergency or injury.

You may qualify for a subsidy

Before you assume that you can’t afford health insurance, you should know that subsidies are available in the form of the premium tax credit. This is a credit you can qualify for upfront so you don’t have to shell out the full cost of your insurance premium when it’s due.

Eligibility for the credit hinges on certain financial criteria:

  • Having an income between 100% and 400% of the federal poverty level
  • Not having access to employer health coverage
  • Not being eligible for Medicare, Medicaid, or the Children’s Health Insurance Program
  • Having U.S. citizenship or proof of legal residency
  • Filing taxes jointly if married

To give you a sense of what the federal poverty level looks like, for a one-person household, a modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) of $58,320 puts you at 400%, while a MAGI of $14,580 puts you at 100%. So as you can see, even if you earn a reasonably decent wage (which many would agree $58,320 qualifies as), you can still be eligible for a subsidy to help offset the cost of your insurance.

It’s awfully sad to see a former Olympic champion not only facing serious health issues, but not having insurance to pick up her hospital costs. Thankfully, Retton’s fans seem to be willing to come to her rescue. But you can’t bank on that same option. So rather than run the risk of landing in serious debt due to medical bills, do what you can to put health insurance coverage in place.

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