Sunday, 8 July 2007

Top 6 tips for choosing health insurance

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Did you know that illness and medical bills are the cause of nearly half of US bankruptcy cases? It's not a great shock, is it? For example, my niece has a serious chronic condition; just within the past year her medical costs (above and beyond what her relatively decent insurance plan covered) totaled more than $5,000. I can only imagine what the costs would have been had she been uninsured.

This article offers 6 tips for choosing the best health insurance:
  1. Location. Certain states have higher or lower insurance costs. Research if there are any lower-cost insurance options sponsored or partially subsidized by your state (income restrictions may apply).
  2. Write out your priorities. Determine the criteria that are important to you -- keeping your same doctors, not requiring referrals from a general practitioner, low co-pays, etc. These criteria will help you narrow down your options.
  3. Use a broker. An insurance broker can weed through the confusing paperwork and help you find the best option. Just make sure the broker is reputable and that they have a "large book" (a large network of insurance agencies that they work with -- otherwise you'll only be given a small range of options).
  4. Ask for a "free look." It's not advertised, but many insurance plans will give you a trial period. If you're unhappy with the insurance plan within a set period of time, the companies may refund the money you've paid so far.
  5. Consider a Health Savings Account. HSAs work together with low-cost, high-deductible plans. The money you save on premiums is deposited into a pre-tax savings account and can be used for any health-related purpose.
  6. Negotiate. Be a savvy consumer and negotiate costs with your doctor (for example, get pre-approval from your insurance agency for any surgical procedures; if the doctors costs are above the "reasonable and customary" costs defined by your insurance plan, ask your doctor to consider lowering his rate).

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