In California, cheap health insurance can be purchased through the online state insurance exchange or acquired through Medicaid if your household income falls below 138% of the federal poverty level. We compared quotes for health plans and concluded that the Silver 70 HMO, offered by L.A. Care Health Plan, was the most affordable Silver policy in the most populated counties of the state. Note that in California, there are many companies where you can buy individual health insurance, but they may not all be available in your county—only Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield of California offer health insurance statewide.
- Cheapest Health Insurance Coverage by Metal Tier
- Short-Term Health Insurance in California
- COBRA Insurance in California
- Student Health Insurance in California
- Health Insurance Companies in California
- Cheapest Silver Plan by County
Cheapest Health Insurance Coverage by Metal Tier
We researched and compared health plans offered on the Covered California health insurance marketplace to identify the lowest-cost option at each level of coverage. Marketplace health insurance is available if you do not currently receive coverage through an employer or from the federal government. For example, if you are self-employed and need health insurance, you would purchase an individual plan through the health insurance marketplace.
The table below shows the cheapest health insurance policies for each metal tier, each plan’s deductible, out-of-pocket maximums and the monthly premium for a 40-year-old. These health plans should be used as a starting point for evaluating your coverage needs and gauging the expected cost of a given tier.
|Metal tier||Cheapest plan||Deductible||Out-of-pocket maximum||Monthly premium for a 40-year-old|
|Catastrophic||Minimum Coverage EnhancedCare PPO||$7,900||$7,900||$168.95|
|Bronze||Bronze 60 HDHP EPO||$6,000||$6,650||$261.90|
|Silver||Silver 70 HMO||$2,500||$7,550||$362.31|
|Gold||Gold 80 HMO||$0||$7,200||$365.77|
|Platinum||Platinum 90 HMO||$0||$3,350||$428.76|
As you can see, health insurance in California is offered through five different metal tiers: Catastrophic, Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum. The higher tiers (Gold and Platinum) have the most expensive premiums along with the smallest deductibles, while tiers like Catastrophic have a high deductible but cheap monthly premiums. For example, the monthly rate for the Gold plan is 57% more expensive than the price of the Catastrophic plan.
A key determinant for the price of health insurance is the age of the insured. The graph below shows the average monthly costs of health insurance depending on the metal tier of the policy and your age. For example, for a Silver health plan, a 40-year-old in California will pay 28% more on average for the same coverage when compared to a 21-year-old. The jump in monthly cost becomes even larger as you get older, with a 60-year-old paying, on average, 112% more than a 40-year-old for Silver-tier coverage.
Finding the Best Health Insurance Coverage in California
The best health insurance coverage for you will depend on the availability of plans in your county as well as your medical and financial situation. California has approved expanded Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act. Therefore, Medicaid coverage is available to anyone with a household income below 138% of the federal poverty level.
When evaluating plans and your needs, you should carefully review the premiums and deductibles for private health insurance to determine what’s affordable. Typically, if you expect moderate to high medical costs, then choosing a higher metal tier plan with more expensive premiums but lower cost-sharing rates would make more financial sense.
Gold and Platinum: Best if You Expect High Medical Costs
Platinum and Gold health plans are the highest tiers offered by the Covered California exchange. These policies have the highest premiums but come with lower deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums. Due to these lower limits, Gold and Platinum plans can be the most cost-effective for those with higher medical bills, as you would reach the deductible quickly and then have access to coinsurance through your provider. For example, say you and your domestic partner are covered under a single policy, and they require expensive prescription drugs that need to be refilled often. In this case, an upper-tier health insurance policy could be the best choice.
Silver Plans: Best for People with Low Income or Average Medical Costs
Silver health plans are the middle-ground policy on the health insurance marketplace with regard to premiums and deductibles. We would recommend a Silver plan in most situations, but if you are very healthy, Bronze may be the most cost-effective plan. On the other hand, if you know you will have high medical costs, then a Gold plan may be better.
All health plans except Catastrophic offer premium tax credits, but Silver plans are eligible for additional cost-sharing reductions if your income falls below 250% of the federal poverty level. If you are eligible, then you would be able to receive discounts on the amount you would be required to pay in deductibles, copayments and coinsurance.
Bronze and Catastrophic: Best for Young, Healthy Individuals
Bronze and Catastrophic plans have the cheapest premiums but also the highest deductibles. These low-cost plans are best for people in excellent health who do not expect to have high medical costs during the year. Both of these policies provide coinsurance coverage once you have met the deductible like other metal tier plans. But, due to the high deductible, this would only occur in the case of a costly medical expense.
Bronze metal plans are available to anyone, but Catastrophic coverage is only available if you are 30 or younger or have an exemption that allows you to purchase this policy.
Short-Term Health Insurance in California
Short-term health insurance plans are not available for purchase in California. In 2018, Senate Bill 910 was passed by California lawmakers, which effectively banned the sale and renewal of all temporary health policies starting Jan. 1, 2019. Prior to this law, California had its own set of legislation that limited the term of short-term policies to 185 days. Often, short-term plans do not cover the essential benefits—such as maternity, mental health and prescription drugs—which is why lawmakers pushed for the ban on these types of health insurance products.
COBRA Insurance in California
In California, COBRA insurance is available and required to be offered from employers. COBRA insurance allows for the continuation of group insurance benefits for a specified time if you were fired or quit your job. This insurance only allows for the extension of coverage if the employee and their dependents have experienced a qualifying life event.
Student Health Insurance in California
If you are a student, you can purchase individual health insurance through the Covered California portal. But, students in California have other options for obtaining health insurance, including:
- Stay on your parents’ plan: You have the option to stay covered under your parents’ health insurance policy until the age of 26.
- School sponsored plan: Some colleges offer their own health insurance plans, although they may not cover off-campus services, and you could lose your coverage if you become a part-time student or transfer schools.
- Student health plan: These health insurance plans are designed for full-time students between the ages of 17 and 29. Policies can be purchased through the same insurance providers that offer marketplace coverage. Student health plans are paid through an annual or semiannual premium and can be a good option because they travel with you wherever you study in the U.S.
Best Cheap Health Insurance Companies in California
There are currently 12 insurers that sell individual health insurance plans on the Covered California marketplace:
- Anthem Blue Cross
- Blue Shield of California
- Chinese Community Health Plan
- Health Net
- Kaiser Permanente
- L.A. Care Health Plan
- Molina Healthcare
- SHARP Health Plan
- Oscar Health
- Valley Health Plan
- Western Health Advantage
The availability of insurers and health plans changes by county, so your location will directly impact your coverage options. Out of all these providers, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield of California are the only insurers that offer health insurance plans to the entire state.
Cheapest Silver Plan by County
Depending on where you live, you may pay different rates for a particular health insurance policy since prices are determined by county. To help you find the best-priced coverage, below we have provided a list of the cheapest Silver health insurance plans available in the seven largest counties of California.
|County||Cheapest Plan||Marketing Name||Age 21||Age 40||Age 60|
|Los Angeles||L.A. Care Health Plan||Silver 70 HMO||$283.5||$362.31||$769.41|
|San Diego||Molina HealthCare||Silver 70 HMO||$306.29||$391.44||$831.27|
|Orange||HealthNet||Silver 70 CommunityCare||$318.18||$406.64||$863.55|
|Riverside||Blue Shield||Silver 70 Trio HMO||$292.79||$374.18||$794.62|
|San Bernadino||Blue Shield||Silver 70 Trio HMO||$292.79||$374.18||$794.62|
|Santa Clara||Valley Health Plan||Silver 70 HMO||$315.69||$403.45||$856.78|
|Alameda||Kaiser Permanente||Silver 70 HMO||$397.04||$507.41||$1077.56|