The Affordable Care Act has taken full effect in the individual health insurance market, which means rates have shifted, new plans are available, and your income likely qualifies you for financial assistance. In some areas, it’s possible you could even get a free plan depending on your income and the cost of coverage in your region.
Without considering the subsidies that some people qualify for, we looked at where health plans would cost the least. And not just the cheapest possible health insurance — we picked plans that had access to your primary care doctor, medications and in-network hospitals for a copay, or flat rate.
Our premiums are based on 30-year-old applicants living in each city. Keep in mind that premiums will increase depending on your age and whether or not you use tobacco.
Policies vary from state to state, therefore benefit and cost sharing structures do as well, but each of the following cities offer solid health insurance plans on the gold level of the marketplace. Gold plans allow members to pay less for healthcare services in exchange for a higher premium.
Since you can apply your subsidy to a gold plan, you can purchase one for a lower rate than what you see listed here. If your income is less than 400 percent of poverty, or about $46,600 for an individual, you may qualify for a tax credit to help you reduce your premium.
Now, let’s find out if any of these cities are worth relocating to just for the sake of a reasonable premium. From our findings it seems if you really need healthcare, you may want to start shopping for a parka or some scorpion repellent.
1. Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota
The Twin Cities might be home to frigid winters, but their coverage is among the top-rated in the nation. Minneapolis turned out to have the best value among any of the nation’s densest cities for gold plans on the exchange.
Minnesota residents can apply for individual plans on the state-run marketplace, MNsure. The most cost-effective plan is sold by regional Midwest carrier PreferredOne for $157 per month.
The state got a head start on implementing health reforms in its local hospitals and health plans, as it added new programs prior to the Affordable Care Act. Minnesota’s individual insurance market has long been dominated by locally headquartered companies who have important negotiating power with nearby health systems.
Between preparedness and a community connection, Minneapolis residents lucked out with a high-quality, low-cost health insurance marketplace. At least when compared to neighboring Wisconsin, which took the federal-run exchange route, and offers plans at 25 to 35 percent higher rates.
MNsure’s website worked during open enrollment, too.
2. Washington, District of Columbia
Formerly a costly location for individual coverage, Washington, DC has appropriately stepped it up and lowered costs on the new DC Health Link exchange. As the home of the Obamacare law, the district created a reasonably-priced option for its numerous low-income residents.
For $180 per month, a 30-year-old DC resident can purchase an HMO policy from Kaiser Permanente with a $1,750 deductible. However, the out-of-pocket maximum is on the high side at $6,350.
The policy offers enough copayments for services upfront that it’s still a worthwhile purchase. DC Health Link is operated by the District, and the site had some issues with enrollment yet still managed to sign up more than 20,000 residents between October 2013 and January 2014.
3. Wichita, Kansas
Wichita health insurance is typically affordable for individuals and families on the private market, and that trend continues on the ACA exchange. A federally-operated marketplace, Kansas’ exchange offers lower-priced gold plans that can cost even less if you’re eligible for a subsidy.
Our featured “qualified health plan” (the name for Obamacare-approved policies) was a Blue KC plan selling for $193 per month. The plan had a low deductible of $1,400 and $2,800 out-of-pocket. Very easy on the wallet.
With one emergency room visit or a few pricey meds and follow-up office visits, you could reach your deductible fairly quickly, which means your insurer pays the majority of the bill.
While Kansas was urged by the federal government to expand Medicaid for it’s poor population, it still has yet to follow through.
4. Detroit, Michigan
Sure, the city filed for bankruptcy and is full of dilapidated buildings, but plenty of people still live there and need health coverage. Michigan defaulted it’s exchange to the federal government, and Humana offers the least expensive coverage on the market.
In most federally-run states where Humana is sold, they offered the least expensive gold plans. In Detroit, the most reasonable gold policy was $196 per month for a 30-year-old.
Before the marketplace opened, Michiganders would have paid different rates based on gender. The ACA clears up that issue, and also adds cost-reducing tax credits so your premium could be more like $100 per month for this plan.
Empower yourself and the on-the-rise City of Detroit by getting insured. After all, your other option is a penalty tax.
5. Tucson, Arizona
A hotspot for relocating Californians and Nevadans, Tucson is a cheap place to live and get covered. There are a few downsides to the city’s natural beauty and alluring character, however: scorpions, 100ºF summer temperatures, and an unpleasantly high crime rate.
If you can get past these slight details, you’re looking at a great policy from Humana for $204 per month. Like all Humana gold plans in 2014, the policy we chose had a $2,500 deductible and a $3,500 out-of-pocket limit.
Arizona decided to expand it’s Medicaid program, so if your income doesn’t qualify you for a subsidy because it’s too low, you can apply for free health insurance through AHCCCS. The state’s marketplace is operated by the federal government, which may have made it difficult to be one of the first to sign up in 2013.
Arizona’s health insurance companies offer affordable coverage both on and off the exchange, but prices have increased due to new requirements under the health law. If you think you’ll have trouble affording coverage, you’ll likely qualify for financial assistance on the marketplace.
6. Albuquerque, New Mexico
Another desert city with affordable living costs, Albuquerque won first place for affordable coverage in the private market study we did in 2012. Still budget-friendly, plans for 30-year-olds cost $206 per month in this major Southwestern city.
New Mexico also defaulted to a federal exchange, but the state’s Blue Cross Blue Shield plan provides locals with lower rates and good networks. The policy had a $1,500 deductible and a $3,500 maximum out-of-pocket.
Gold plans typically offer a better selection of doctors and hospitals than the econo-plans on the bronze and silver level. Insurers can’t afford to offer large networks for people who aren’t paying much, if anything for coverage.
New Mexico is one of the places where coverage is so cheap that if your income is low enough, you may be able to get a subsidy that covers 100 percent of your premium. This is only applicable to very low-cost bronze plans.
7. Austin, Texas
Austin is a big city that offers affordable, healthy living and equally reasonable medical policies. On the new federally-run exchange in Texas, Austin’s plans were the least costly in the state.
Humana’s $2500 deductible gold plan provided the greatest value for a 30-year-old applicant at $209 per month. If it still doesn’t sound cheap, keep in mind you can get significant discounts with tax credits if your income is in the low-to-mid range.
A long-standing opponent to the Affordable Care Act, Texas refused to organize a state-level exchange and declined to expand Medicaid to low-income residents. However, subsidized coverage is still offered to individuals who earn poverty-level income and up through the marketplace.
If you expect to visit the doctor several times throughout the year, a gold plan will be an overall better choice as you’ll save money on your office visits, medications and other services.
8. Louisville, Kentucky
An expanding locale that is both Southern and Midwestern, Louisville was one of the cheapest cities for individual coverage according to our pre-ACA research, and remains one of the most affordable. You can find a comprehensive set of benefits in the city of bourbon and baseball bats, and Humana’s eye-catching headquarters.
The state operates its own health insurance marketplace, Kynect, which has was an early success story of Obamacare working in the South, and in America overall. One of the ACA-created co-op health plans, KY Health Cooperative, offers the best price for gold-level coverage at $215 per month.
Kentucky’s Democratic governor at the time of health reform implementation helped increase access to healthcare in the state by expanding Medicaid rolls to childless adults and establishing a state-run marketplace.
9. Memphis, Tennessee
Where can you find the blues in Memphis? Probably not on the Tennessee marketplace, because they don’t sing, they sell health insurance.
For $217 per month before subsidy, you can imagine a solid tax credit would help you manage meeting monthly premiums. The best plan in the area was another Humana $2500 deductible policy with a better network than the bronze and silver plans offer.
$217 is creeping up into the expensive range, but compared to a 60-year-old applicant’s $600 premium, it’s manageable. Across all of the major US cities, Memphis is affordable. Before the exchanges were set up and premiums increased for 2014, a healthy 20-something female applicant would be charged this much.
Now that all applicants are on equal ground in terms of premium rating, coverage is a little bit higher for some, but could cost less for others.
10. Portland, Oregon
The weirdo ad campaigns for Cover Oregon didn’t help the state’s nonprofit marketplace get off to a better start by any means. While Portland’s premiums rates have dropped since the exchanges were introduced, even before factoring in tax credits, customers statewide had difficulty signing up.
The snarky city was the tenth-least expensive major city for individual Obamacare coverage with a $219 per month rate from Health Net. Coverage is balanced with a $2,000 deductible and $3,500 out-of-pocket, and copays for various services upfront.
As technical difficulties get smoothed out for the exchange, it will hopefully have better enrollment in the future.