Your 2021 health plan shopping checklist

Consider these 5 things when thinking about which health plan to choose.

Open enrollment is the time each year when you can make changes to your health insurance benefits, such as changing your plan or adding additional family members.

This year’s open enrollment period in the individual market — for people buying insurance directly from a health plan or through Covered California rather than through an employer — begins Nov. 1, 2020 and runs through Jan. 31, 2021.

“This year’s open enrollment is really important,” explains Don Truong, director of sales at Sharp Health Plan. “Making sure that you and your loved ones have access to the best care is critical, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s why we put together the following shopping checklist to help you pick the right health insurance provider and benefit plan for next year.”

Your health insurance shopping checklist

  1. Shop for a health plan based on quality
    You should always look at the quality of a health plan before purchasing health insurance. The National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA) offers annual health insurance plan ratings based on clinical quality, member satisfaction and NCQA accreditation survey results. Covered California also rates health plans based on members getting the right medical care, their care experiences and plan services. It’s also important to check on the quality of a health plan’s network — the health care facilities and doctors that you’ll have access to through your health plan.

  2. Consider what care you may need in the future
    Determine what health care services you’ll likely need to use for the upcoming year. This includes specialist appointments and prescriptions. If you or anyone in your family has a new health condition, prescription or are planning to undergo surgery, you’ll want to take that into consideration when selecting a plan. It’s also a good idea to see what type of coverage your health plan offers in terms of COVID-19 screening, testing and treatment, and what your out-of-pocket costs might be for those services.

  3. Know how much you’ll pay and check to see if you qualify for financial assistance
    The amount of coverage you get depends on the type of plan you choose. Typically, the more coverage you have, the higher your monthly premium will be. Most health plans share costs with you through deductibles, copayments and coinsurance. It’s important to understand the services a health plan covers and any associated out-of-pocket costs before picking a plan.

    Health coverage is available at reduced or no cost for people with incomes below certain levels. California has made it easier for many middle-income consumers to qualify for financial help. Even if you haven’t qualified for financial help in the past, you may now. Check with Covered California to see if you qualify.

  4. Make a list of must-have prescriptions, doctors and facilities
    Every health plan has a network of providers, pharmacies and hospitals for you to use when you need to get care. It also has a list of prescriptions it covers. When evaluating a health plan, it’s a good idea to check out their network to ensure that your doctors and prescriptions are covered.

  5. Prepare your information
    When you apply for or renew your coverage, you’ll need to provide some information about you and your household, including:
    • The names, dates of birth and Social Security numbers of everyone you want to cover on your plan
    • Your estimated household income for 2020 (pre-tax), if you want to see if you qualify for financial help
    • Employer names, addresses and phone numbers for everyone in your household
    • Immigration documents (if applicable)

    If you can check off the items on the list above, then you’re ready to get insured for 2021. However, if you still have questions, there are many resources available. “We want to make sure people know that they can get help,” advises Truong. “There are lots of community resources available with experts whose job is to help you find the right coverage.”

    Sharp Health Plan hosts free, virtual enrollment labs, where you can learn about health insurance options and, if you feel ready, get help with enrollment at no cost to you. Visit for dates and registration. You can also contact the Covered California service center for support.