Research before you pick health insurance

by Lesley Politi on November 17, 2008

Research before you pick health insurance

In this slow economy, workers shouldn’t overlook finding the right plan, an insurance executive says.

It cost about $15,600 to provide health coverage for a family of four in 2008. Some of that was paid for by employers, but increasingly, more of it is coming out of workers’ pockets.

The problem is consumers tend to research more when buying a car or a big appliance than when selecting a health insurance plan, studies have found.

With the economy’s dismal outlook, it’s not something we should overlook, said Burke King, president of Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Virginia.

“In the past, consumers may have quickly looked over their benefit options and chosen the same plan for next year or not done anything and defaulted into the previous year’s selection,” King said in a news release. “But this year, with all the economic pressures consumers are facing, it makes sense to really study the plan options that are available to best meet their family’s needs.”

November is usually open-enrollment season for companies that offer health insurance. The following are some tips provided by Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield and Becky Lawson of Optima Health to consider when picking a plan:

• People often choose the plan that has the least effect on their paycheck — but that option might not be the best choice in general. Plans with higher monthly premiums and lower co-pays and deductibles might be best for those who expect to use a lot of health care services. Young and healthy people without children might save with a plan that features low premiums and a high deductible.

• Do your homework and take advantage of your company’s benefit-plan meetings. Ask questions and compare plans.

• Think about previous health care spending. The best way to determine which plan is best is to understand the health care services your family used this year and consider expenses that might occur in the next year, such as having a child. Assess your needs and budget by reviewing your previous year’s expenses for things such as doctor’s visits, prescription drugs, specialist fees, orthotics, physical therapy, procedures and flu shots.

• Most people just stick with their current plan. But it might have changed. Have the co-pays and deductibles increased? Remember, it’s your money.

If you want to see a particular physician or have a preferred hospital, make sure that they’re in the network. This is especially important if you are switching your insurance company or are switching to a different health plan.

• Consider your options. You might get better coverage through your spouse. You won’t know unless you review both options.

• Take advantage of your health care flexible spending account. These accounts use pre-tax dollars to help pay health care expenses like co-pays and deductibles. But don’t go overboard. You must use all the money in these accounts during the course of the year.

• Open enrollment is about more than just health care. It’s also the time to consider other insurance, including dental, life, accidental, disability and vision. Take advantage of all the choices offered to you.

• Look for value-added benefits. Does the plan offer programs, services and discounts to help keep you healthy? These extras can help keep your health care expenses down. For example, if you want to join a gym, check whether your plan offers a discount on local gyms.


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