Buying Low Cost Health Insurance: The Secret to Getting Your Money's Worth
by Ryan Patterson, CEO US Insurance Online
In 2007, Americans spent over $2 trillion on health care services, which was nearly $7500 for each person in the US. With that kind of cost, is your health insurance plan working for you and your family?
By doing a bit of homework, you can save hundreds, even thousands, of dollars in premiums each year and find low cost health insurance that works for you. To help, this article will look at assessing your medical needs, how to check an insurance company's reputation online, figuring out exact details for the type of policy you need, and provide key questions to ask your agent or broker.
First things first:
Insurance shopping begins with how much you can afford to pay for insurance premiums. Next, determine what your medical needs actually are. Do you have a family? Do you need regular or preventive medical care? Do you only want a major medical policy, which has high deductibles but covers medical emergencies and surgeries? If you're generally in good health and relatively young (under 50), the best option is usually the latter— high deductible health insurance and a lower premium.
Once you've taken stock of those things, find a regional or local insurance broker who can advise you on specific plans offered by different companies—or begin your general research online. Check out your potential insurers' reputations by plugging their names into Web sites like A.M. Best Company's (www.ambest.com) or Moody's Investors Service (www.moodys.com). Any existing complaints filed against an insurance company—such as refusal to pay claims or illegally dropping a client—should be reported on Web sites like Best or Moody's.
Now, use this checklist to figure out the exact details of the type of policy you need.
Do you require?
- prescription coverage
- emergency room visits/emergency care
- annual check-ups or physicals
- maternity coverage and/or “well” childcare
- regular doctor visits
- dependent coverage/home health care
- specialist coverage for vision, dental, speech, mental health, home care, and surgeries.
Also consider these overall questions before signing on the dotted line:
- Is there a waiting period for pre-existing conditions?
- Is your current physician on the plan's provider network?
- Where are the nearest hospitals you can visit with your plan?
- Is there a wide selection of primary care physicians and specialists?
Other key monetary questions are:
- What will your out-of-pocket expenses be for prescriptions, special testing and diagnostic procedures, preventive care, or for general doctor visits?
- How many doctor visits is each insured person allowed per year, quarter, or even per month, as some insurance companies specify?
- What is the policy's ceiling on out-of-pocket expenses for major operations and other serious (and pricey) medical procedures? In other words, what is the maximum you will have to pay, out-of-pocket, on a particular procedure?
Ask your broker:
- Do you have a choice of doctors, and how you would see a specialist, if needed?
- Does your location rule out any of the plans?
- Are there enough health care providers close to you for the plan you are considering?
- What about extra services you might need, such as physical therapy or equipment, counseling, etc. Are they covered?
- Is a prescription plan included with the policy?
- When comparing different policies, check if one has more exclusions on medical services than the other. You may choose one type over another based on these exclusions and the comparative price of the premiums.
- How do the plans you're considering deal with a possible dispute over a benefit?
Make a comparison chart of your two final choices, listing the different
for each of the following:
- Deductible for each individual
- Deductible total for the family
- Deductible for out-of-network providers (if different)
- After deductible is met, percentage of fees paid by insurance company for network providers
- After deductible is met, percentage of fees paid by insurance company for out-of-network providers
- Maximum limit insurance will pay for each claim
- Maximum limit insurance will pay over one's lifetime
- Uncovered medical expenses that will be out-of-pocket
- Can I afford the annual costs?
All of this is tricky, so get very detailed information from your agent or broker or from an objective source (a non-corporate or non-insurance company sponsored Web site). What you don't understand or are unsure of can hurt you. Get the details in writing.
Armed with the proper information, you can find a low cost health insurance plan to protect you and your family. It's best to spend the extra time researching—and don't be afraid to ask “stupid” questions. When it comes to you and your family's health care, there are no stupid questions!
About the Author:
Ryan Patterson is president of US Insurance Online, a web site that serves consumers who want the best insurance policy for their needs at the lowest cost. Patterson is based in Austin, Texas and graduated from the University of Texas with a combined business and computer science degree.
For more information, visit www.USInsuranceOnline.com.