Having health insurance is important, not just because it’s a massive layer of personal protection, but also because it’s federally illegal not to have it in some form.

The issue, of course, is it still costs money to have health insurance.

If you’re fortunate, that money comes out of a salaried paycheck, and you can tell yourself you’re not really losing money since it was hardly yours in the first place.

If you’re not as fortunate, you’ll have to pay for your coverage out-of-pocket, and you’ll directly feel the strain on your bank account.

But if you simply cannot afford proper health insurance at all, health expenses are no longer so much a burden as they are a boogeyman: what can you do?

Do you bite the bullet, pay the bills on credit and incur a mountain of debt? Do you simply go without and hope you don’t get sick? Do you have any other options?

Not being able to afford health insurance is a tough situation to be in, but there are some avenues that are paved more smoothly than others.

Find the Cheapest Options (Where You Weren’t Looking)

While you could go to the website of any health insurance provider, public or private, and simply compare rates as per usual, your search shouldn’t end there.

Try consulting an insurance broker whose specific job is to turn over every possible stone looking for the cheapest rates for you. There may be a much cheaper option from a provider you simply had never heard of before.

Get Creative

Whether you’re looking for coverage by yourself or with an expert, be sure to account for all the deductions to which you may be entitled. If you’re truly having trouble paying your bills, there’s a fair chance you’re qualified for hardship exemptions.

This can mean either receiving a discount on your insurance rates upfront or writing off your insurance expenses as a loss on your taxes. These hinge on your household income as well as the number of people in your family. Different numbers mean different quantities and qualities of discounts.

There‘s also an unorthodox method that may seem very unappealing, but it’s worked for some people.

If you’re just barely unqualified for a major discount because your income is ever so slightly too high, have you considered lowering your income?

Yes, that absolutely sounds like an insane proposition, much like how it sounds like an insane observation to note that you could actually save money in the long run if it means lowering your annual income by a few thousand dollars.

But it could result in lowering your monthly premiums by many hundreds of dollars and you’d multiply those savings by 12 months.

Keep in mind, you don’t necessarily have to make less money to “lower” your income, you just need to adjust it.

You can write off expenses for things like retirement investments and self-employment expenses. You don’t need to walk into your boss’s office and ask for a pay cut.

Find Alternatives

The federal rule is you’ll have to pay a fine if you don’t have ACA-compliant insurance. Not all insurance is ACA-compliant, however.

There exist limited insurance options that won’t cover everything, but will still cover a lot. Aflac is perhaps the most prominent provider of policies like this.

While we will not outright encourage you to forgo health insurance at risk of legal penalty, we will tell you the facts. And it’s a fact that you may be able to buy limited insurance, pay the fine and still not pay as much as you would for ACA-compliant insurance.

A similar option is short-term health insurance, which is intended for people stuck between (insurance-providing) jobs, but is open for anybody to apply.

This can provide you security if you’re currently job-seeking or if you just happen to be in a line of work where health insurance is not covered.

You may also be able to join a group that can get collective health insurance for its members at a discounted rate. These groups can be alumni associations, religious groups, collectives of self-employed people (sort of like a union), and more.

Pay at a Pace

There’s one more insurance format that allows for some payment flexibility, but it’s usually only for people under a certain age (typically 30).

“Catastrophic insurance” is set up so you pay your own medical bills until you meet a threshold that counts as your first premium. This way, the policyholder doesn’t spend a bunch of money on monthly premiums if they aren’t even getting sick, and the insurer doesn’t have to pay up on the policyholder’s first bills.

But let’s say all the above fails to get you suitable coverage, you choose to go without, and you wind up having an emergency that racks up a huge bill. Now you need to pay it out of pocket. What can you do?

Try your hand at negotiating a payment plan over the course of months or years. It might not work, but nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Some medical providers will be very willing to give you some time if they think it means they’ll eventually get all their money that way, as opposed to you going bankrupt from not having all the funds right now. Other entities will be much less flexible. But you don’t know until you ask.

Be Smart with Your Money

Whether you have insurance or not, always try to get the cheaper generic versions of prescription medications if you can. You need not worry about their effectiveness; the FDA wouldn’t let them on the market if they didn’t contain the same ingredients and do the same job as their name-brand counterparts.

Furthermore, don’t engage in risky behaviors. None of us really needs to be drinking, smoking, or skydiving. The less we put ourselves in abject danger, the less likely medical issues will arise in the first place. Regardless of our ability to pay, we can surely all do with fewer of those.

We say this a lot here at the National Assistance Network, but the best thing you can really do is know your options. Shop around and you might find another option that works best for you that even we don’t know about. As always, it never hurts to be vigilant.