Buying Health Insurance
Ever increasing numbers of people are buying health insurance for the first time. Whether you are a recent college grad who has not yet found that first paying job, you are temporarily between jobs, your employer is cutting back on benefits, or you find yourself without health care coverage for any reason, getting coverage for you and your family does not have to be a difficult or prolonged process.
Here are the top 10 steps to take to ensure that you get the plan that suits both your budget and health care needs.
- Learning the language of health insurance
- Evaluate your situation
- Take advantage of free expert advice
- Honesty is the best policy
- Buy health insurance separately when needed
- Only consider plans that cover your preferred doctor and hospitals
- Make a side by side comparison
- Get short term coverage if necessary – no lapse in coverage
- Don’t wait…
- …But take your time
Learning the language of health insurance
Just about every health insurance policy comprises a few basic components. In order to make an informed decision, you need to make sure you know the definitions of these terms:
Evaluate your situation
Knowing your priorities will help you narrow down your choices and weigh the pros and cons of each plan. Here are some questions you should answer before you begin buying health insurance for a policy:
- What monthly premium can I afford?
- Do I want coverage for preventive care or just in case of a major illness or accident?
- Who has the largest or most convenient provider network for my lifestyle?
- Do I want greater control over my medical resources?
- Am I planning on having a child in the future?
Take advantage of free expert advice
There are literally hundreds if not thousands of health plans from which to choose. When you have assessed your needs, you can benefit from the help of a health care exchange, either through online tools or a telephone conversation. A health care exchange can quickly filter your information and present you with a few alternatives that match your personal requirements. Services such as Insure.com specialize in individual insurance and are staffed by experts. They will help guide you through the process of selecting an ideal plan to complete your application and receiving your policy. And, because this service is free, there is no reason to not take advantage of this unparalleled opportunity.
Honesty is the best policy
Some people are afraid that if they tell the truth about a health insurance application they will be rejected. Yes, given the current laws, there is a chance that if you have a pre-existing condition you may be turned away. However, if you lie about such a condition, the insurance company will certainly find out can legally cancel your policy. It is in your interest, to be honest. Even if you have a pre-existing condition you might be eligible for some amount of catastrophic coverage. Talk honestly and confidentially with a health insurance agent—you may be surprised by what you learn.
Buy health insurance separately when needed
Just because one member of a family has a pre-existing condition, doesn’t mean that the whole family can’t be covered. The family can be covered by separate plans. For those who are not ill, purchase an affordable, comprehensive plan. The person who is more difficult to cover still has options. If you can afford it, there are guaranteed issue plans. Others may choose to be covered in the case of an accident. And still, others may choose to participate in non-insurance discount programs. Of course, combinations of these approaches are possible too—check out our explanation of the basics of family health insurance for more information.
Only consider plans that cover your preferred doctor and hospitals
Even if a plan boasts an enormous provider network, take the time to check that your favorite doctor is included. If not, you may find out too late and be forced to make the choice between paying substantial out-of-network fees and choosing a new doctor. The same is true of hospitals. Make sure that the hospitals that are included in a perspective plan’s network are not only reputed to be high quality but also conveniently located.
Make a side by side comparison
Once you have narrowed down your choices, line up the final contenders and write down the premiums, in-network deductible, co-pays for office visits, AM Best ratings (a measure of the underwriter’s ability to pay claims), co-insurance and any other attributes that are important to you. A simpler way is to use GetInsured.com, which automatically generates a side-by-side comparison of your best options. Just like when buying a car, a side-by-side comparison of price and features can be an invaluable step in evaluating health care plans.
Get short term coverage if necessary – no lapse in coverage
The most important principle in health care insurance is to never be without it. If you are a recent college grad, or you’re between jobs, you may be tempted to avoid the hassle and expense of securing temporary coverage. After all, as soon as you get that job, you’ll be eligible for an employer-sponsored plan. It is a dangerous gamble; if you get sick or have an accident while not covered, the results could be financially devastating. If the job doesn’t come through, you could be without health coverage for longer than you planned. Short-term coverage is available for as few as 30-days and as much as a year. This varies by state. Premiums and deductibles can be set to match your needs, and applications can be approved very quickly. Don’t allow yourself to be at risk for even one day—learn how you can find affordable short-term coverage here.
Just as you should not wait until your next job or other major life transition to provide you with health care benefits, do not wait for government-driven health care reform. A mandate for universal coverage, government subsidies and other changes may benefit you directly, but these changes are still years away from being implemented. Illness or a medical emergency can sneak up on us at any time and be without coverage is dangerous both medically and financially. Affordable major medical plans are available and invaluable.
…But take your time
After all, an insurance policy is a financial agreement that should not be made hastily or under duress. Yes, you should try to get insured right away, but once you have selected a plan and completed your application, go back and review the details carefully. Make sure that you understand your responsibility as well as your benefits, and that the terms suit you. By law, there is a 10-day rescission period during which you can change your mind about a plan without any repercussions. Insure.com goes further by encouraging its customers to take advantage of its 30-day ‘free look’ policy from the time an application is submitted. Use this time to make sure that you are comfortable with your new plan. After all, what is the purpose of insurance, if not to provide you with peace of mind?