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An Essential Breakdown of Health Care Basics for New Adults

As an adult, it's time to move on from the days of your mom making your appointments for you. Take control of your health care with this basic advice!

You’ve settled into your apartment, you’ve started work, and you’re entirely on your own...but wait, when was the last time you went to the dentist? Today, we’re going to talk about managing your own health care as an adult: who you need to see when, keeping yourself well, getting and using health insurance, and how to pay for it all. (Please note: I am not a medical professional, and this advice is from general personal experience and information available online.)

When you should see a doctor

First, here’s a typical schedule of what doctors to see and when to keep up your regular health:

  • Dentist twice a year
  • Optometrist once a year (especially if you wear glasses or contacts)
  • Primary/general care physician once a year

Your general physician can point you to any specialists you may need to see and keep tabs on your health during a fluid period in your life. Talking to your regular doctor can give you an idea of what you need to do as your adult health changes, and they can refer you to another doctor if your insurance requires that. If you have mental health concerns, it’s always a good time to check in with a mental health professional to take care of your mind too.

Related: Mental Health: What It Is and How You Can Find Help

Over-the-counter medicines

If you’re moving out on your own, you likely won’t realize you don’t have a certain medication until you have a searing headache. Even on a tight budget, it’s a good idea to keep a stocked medicine cabinet of the basics in case of emergencies. There’s nothing worse than a trip to Walmart when you already feel like crap. Here are a few things to keep on hand:

  • Pain medicine (Tylenol, Aleve, Motrin—whatever you typically use)
  • Allergy medication (if you have allergies)
  • Anti-nausea medicine (Pepto-Bismol, Dramamine)
  • Cold and cough medicine
  • Microwaveable warm compress (a clean sock filled with rice is a cheap solution)
  • Band-Aids
  • Antibiotic ointment

Be sure to keep any vitamins or prescription medications you take regularly stocked as well, and buy yourself a thermometer or any other small devices you need to check basic vitals. 

Health insurance coverage

In most cases, you can stay on your parents’ health insurance plan until you’re 26, but there are plenty of circumstances where you may want or need to be off that plan. Regardless, you’ll need a copy of the insurance card and to know what is and isn’t covered by your plan. If you’re on your parents’ plan, they may know what’s covered. Many providers also have websites or apps where you can view your unique coverage and find out which doctors and practices are in the network. If you’re moving to a new place or getting new insurance, always check with the practice to see what you can expect to pay out of pocket. If you’re buying your own insurance, you’ll pay a premium every month that takes care of most covered expenses and often an additional copay when you go to a doctor or get care.

What if it isn’t covered?

If your health insurance doesn’t cover all your costs or you need a service that you can’t use your insurance for, there are often sliding-scale options based on your income or financial assistance programs when you need help. Check with your individual doctor’s office when you visit or look up low-cost clinics online. If you’re still in school, there are often clinics on campus that cater to students’ budgets, and there are places like Planned Parenthood and other local clinics that you can go to for things like your yearly flu shot.

Related: A Helpful Checklist to Manage Your Health in College

We seldom realize what good luck and good health is until we’re sick and have no idea where to turn. But figuring out the basics of where to go and when to see the doctor before it’s dire is a great way to stay on top of your health through all of adulthood.

If you're still in college and just starting to plan your postgrad life, check out our article Looking to the Future: How to Prepare Now for a Better Life After College.

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About Emily Rogan

Emily Rogan is a student at Morehead State University, where she's studying Communications and Theater. When she's not in school, she is an actor, musician, singer, and writer.


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